President Obama’s American Jobs Act included funding for sorely needed summer jobs for young people—the employment rate for people aged 16 to 24 was more than 10 points lower last July than at the same time five years earlier. Congress, of course, wouldn’t pass anything that might create jobs and improve the economy, so Obama’s administration once again had to find a way to get something, anything done despite congressional obstruction. Their answer is Summer Jobs+, in which, according to a White House release:
[T]he Federal government and private sector came together to commit to creating nearly 180,000 employment opportunities for low-income youth in the summer of 2012, with a goal of reaching 250,000 employment opportunities by the start of summer, at least 100,000 of which will be placements in paid jobs and internships.
Currently, 70,000 commitments for “Learn and Earn” paying jobs have been made, from nonprofits to corporate giants like Bank of America to federal agencies. The other 110,000 commitments currently on the table are for unpaid internships and other occasions to learn “Life Skills” and “Work Skills” through workshops and mentoring.
The commitments for paying jobs are an unalloyed good. For kids who can’t find jobs, the opportunity to attend skills workshops or be mentored is definitely better than nothing. In the case of unpaid internships the big question is whether young people are actually being mentored and learning useful things. The Obama administration will need to be sure that some oversight is put in place and kids aren’t used as free labor without getting any benefits to themselves, something that is true of far too many unpaid internships. That said, the effort to create paying jobs for young people is another important step by this administration to get things done in the face of Republican obstruction in Congress.