Despite Budget Woes, L.A. Votes to Preserve Career Development Program for Youth 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to continue funding a job training program aimed at helping marginalized teens and young people gain paid work experience. 

Though the Youth@Work program has not been included in the county’s 2020-21 budget, Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger proposed finding $20.7 million in the supplemental budget to keep the program running, a plan that was unanimously approved. 

“It will provide former foster youth with opportunities we desperately need,” said youth advocate Abigail Andressoo, who called in to the virtual supervisors’ meeting. Youth@Work prioritizes participation among people with histories in the foster care or juvenile justice systems as well as low income, homeless and LGBTQ+ youth. 

Youth@Work provides a combination of on-site, paid work experience with a job readiness training curriculum that covers basics like resume writing as well as soft skills, like working with a team and accepting constructive criticism. 

Lauri Collier with the nonprofit Alliance for Children’s Rights also called in to voice her support. Speaking with The Imprint prior to the meeting, she acknowledged that $20.7 million was a big ask given the nearly $1 billion budget deficit the county is facing due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession. 

But, she said, young people were left behind during the 2008 Great Recession, and we can’t repeat that history by failing to provide teens and young adults help to build a resume and work experience that can launch them onto a sustainable career path. 

Foster youth have been among the hardest hit by the economic fallout, Collier said, because most of them work in the now-decimated customer service industry. This compounds the chronic barriers to employment foster youth already face, like housing instability and a shortage of role models who can help them navigate the job market. 

While the county scrambles to find the funds needed to keep Youth@Work running, the city of Los Angeles has approved funding for its jobs program and is working fast to determine how it will function under the continued social distancing orders that have many workers telecommuting. The city’s program has several options, including working on the census or doing COVID-19 contact tracing. To account for the shortage of positions caused by the economic shutdown, another option combines job readiness training with online college classes.

The supervisors behind the motion acknowledged the challenge of finding the funding for programs like Youth@Work in the hobbled budget, but said it was now more important than ever.

Barger, the current board chair, said that the coronavirus has derailed many of the plans she had to enrich the county under her leadership but, she vowed, “It has not derailed my commitment to investing in youth.”

Sara Tiano can be reached at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.

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