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W&M Republicans Examine Ways to Help Young Adults Move Up the Economic Ladder

May 17, 2017

The Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee—chaired by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE)—today held a hearing to shine a light on the 5.5 million 16 to 24 year olds in America who are not in school and are not working, and to hear about opportunities to help those youth and young adults break the cycle of poverty.

Most concerning is that these young people are not entering the workforce when the national unemployment rate is now 4.4 percent, putting themselves at a disadvantage from the start. As Chairman Smith noted:

“While there are dozens of major federal programs dedicated to helping these youth—from job training and education to social services and juvenile justice—we have not seen major improvements in desired outcomes.”

Currently, there are dozens of federal programs that attempt to help at-risk youth break the cycle of poverty. The system of federal programs is too large, too fragmented, and too uncoordinated. This morning, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report detailing an example of that problem. The new report shows stunningly low participation in work incentive programs for young adults on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. As Chairman Smith said about the report’s findings:

“Less than one and a half percent of SSI youth participate in the largest of SSA’s work incentive programs, the Student Earned Income Exclusion … And few if any youth on SSI receive vocational training and education services offered by the Department of Education, despite recent changes to the law requiring them to focus on this population in particular.” 

As the Committee works to reform America’s welfare programs, it continues to identify examples from innovative private sector programs that are delivering results through work-based experiences such as employer-sponsored internships and apprenticeships. Year Up, founded in 2000 by one of today’s witnesses, Gerald Chertavian, is one such program. Year Up is a one-year program that helps low-income young adults transition into the workforce.

Another one of today’s witnesses, Jameela Roland, is a graduate of the Year Up program. Before joining Year Up, she was homeless and was working full-time to support her mom and herself. Discussing Year Up’s innovative approach and how it helped her climb the economic ladder, Jameela said:

“From the beginning, the staff represented Year Up as more than a schooling opportunity. They represented a movement, created to change the lives of those who are going through struggles like mine. Walking through those doors every day, I know my peers know the Struggle. The staff and mentors know the Struggle. They took the time to get to know me and my goals and dreams, to laud my strengths and bring focus to my growth areas. They gave guidance and advice and kept me focused when I was too tired to see straight. They taught me what it takes to navigate a corporate environment.” 

Now, as a graduate of Year Up, Jameela has a full-time job at Microsoft, is working to earn her degree, and is living comfortably above the poverty line. When asked how Year Up has produced success stories—like Jameela’s—and what federal programs can do to achieve those same results, Mr. Chertavian responded:

“Increase flexibility for sure. Have the incentives follow the outcomes we want primarily. And I think you’ve got to start with the employer and work backwards as to what the employer needs, which is skilled talent.”

Ways and Means Republicans are working to ensure federal programs are designed to emphasize work and focus on outcomes to help young adults—and Americans of all ages—achieve success and break the cycle of poverty.