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Saving Summer Jobs on the Lower East Side

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There was a big rally at City Hall yesterday to save New York’s Summer Youth Employment Program.  Governor Paterson’s budget proposal calls for cutting the state’s $35 million contribution to the program, and Mayor Bloomberg wants to slash $1 million more. That means only about 17,000 jobs would be available this summer (compared with more than 50,000 last year).

At the rally, a lot of teens spoke passionately about the value of the program. Among the LES organizations represented yesterday: the Henry Street Settlement and the Grand Street Settlement. I spoke with Greg Rideout, who leads the youth and workforce development office at Henry Street. He said the direct impact of losing the jobs would be devastating. The program gives kids valuable exposure to the working world. But he’s equally concerned about the ripple effect.

Day camps, for example, rely on the program to fill out their junior staffs. There’s also concern about what kids will be doing this summer if they’re not working.  Youth violence typically escalates in the summer months, even in the best of times. At the rally, one teen said, “more cuts” means “more cuffs.” Rideout pointed out that it’s a whole lot more expensive to put a kid in jail than to give him/her a job ($200,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year vs. $2500 per person for the Summer Jobs Program).

At yesterday’s event, Senator Daniel Squadron spoke forcefully about the need to fund jobs for young people. Acknowledging it is a “terrible budget year,” he said the economic downturn is a reason to save the program, “not to gut it.” He added, “I am here to tell you we are going to get you jobs this summer.”

Henry Street and Grand Street Settlement are two of the 67 organizations citywide that participate in the Summer Employment Program.

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