With summer around the corner — a time when youth often venture out into the workplace for the first time — Los Angeles County is pledging nearly $16 million next year to provide paying jobs and internships.
As the economy recovers from pandemic inflicted damage, L.A. County’s program would offer career skills and 120 hours of paid work to those with highest needs, including young people from its foster care and justice systems and homeless youth. The Youth@Work program matches those ages 14 to 24 with jobs at government agencies, nonprofits and private companies, and pays $15 an hour.
During the first year of the pandemic, the program provided paid work experience to nearly 9,000 young people. Some program participants created more than 100,000 units of personal protective gear, which were then donated to local hospitals, said Kelly LoBianco, executive director of Economic and Workforce Development for L.A. County. Some young participants worked at local food banks and distribution centers while others were placed at homeless shelters.
“This earn and learn model, provided through our network of America’s Job Centers of California (AJCCs), prepares our youngest workers for the 21st century workplace,” LoBianco wrote in an email to The Imprint.
On Tuesday, L.A. County officials projected a $39 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Buoyed by a rosy economic outlook — the county reported an increase in revenue from sales and property taxes. The current proposed budget is about $2 billion larger than last year’s proposal, when the county froze new hires and limited spending for some key projects.
This year, the board also allocated money to the child welfare system for the expansion of its family-finding program, support for LGBTQ+ foster youth and transportation to get them to their home schools. This initial proposal is the first step in a months-long budget cycle. Supervisors will vote on the adoption of the budget in June before making refinements in October.
The employment landscape has also rebounded since last year. In March, California employers added 60,200 jobs, bringing the number of unemployed people below 1 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic, when lockdowns shuttered thousands of businesses. Numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the California Employment Development Department last month indicate that the nation’s most populous state has recovered nearly 90% of positions lost during the pandemic.
Youth unemployment dropped widely across the country in 2021, including in metro areas like Los Angeles, according to analysis from the think tank Mathematica. With plummeting coronavirus numbers and the availability of vaccines, many employers began hiring again, including retail and hospitality industries that depend on young workers.
However, the research found that most states have yet to return to youth employment numbers seen before the pandemic.
“Economic stability and well-being are crucial for youth transitioning out of care, and critical to supporting their holistic stability,” said Melanie Ferrer-Vaughn, associate director of the Opportunity Youth Collaborative. “Now more than ever, we should view these youth and young adults as part of economic recovery.”