- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With all due respect to DuBose Heyward and George Gershwin, “Summertime, and the livin’ isn’t easy.

“We hoodwink the poor, and expectations aren’t high,

“Daddies aren’t rich, and mommas are so-so lookin’,

“So why every year do we make folks sigh?”

The opera “Porgy and Bess” featuring the music “Summertime” hit the stage in 1935, just as Roosevelt’s ambitious back-to-work program, the Works Progress Administration, was getting off the ground. The WPA’s initial appropriation that underpinned the program was $4.9 billion, and by the time it was dissolved in 1943 because of World War II, its annual budget had hit $13.4 billion. In between, at its employment peak in 1938, WPA had provided an estimated 3.3 million jobs.

The majority of those workers were post-Great Depression unemployed and underemployed Americans, and youths, as well as adults on welfare. As the war pushed down jobless numbers, the WPA was no longer needed.

Dwight Eisenhower, who traveled Germany’s autobahn as a World War II general and later marveled at its efficiency, used the roadway as a model for our interstate highway system after he became president, putting countless Americans on public works projects. Lyndon Baines Johnson (with the Jobs Corps program, for example) and Richard Nixon similarly followed suit, with both presidents focusing on youths and job training.

The Nixon-era Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA, as it was known, further funneled federal funds into state and local programs for hard-to-hire Americans. By the time Bill Clinton entered the White House, the urban politicians who hitched their wagons onto federal poverty pimping policies had come to anticipate summer-jobs-for-youth efforts as much as participating in a groundbreaking ceremony with a gold-plated shovel. They knew such programs were guaranteed vote-getters.

Enter Muriel Bowser, who now as mayor of D.C. had the honor to recently sign legislation that expands the city’s summer jobs program. D.C. “youths” can now be as old as 24 — three years older than the earlier cutoff age and two years older than a four-year college graduate who matriculates from high school at age 18.

Employment officials said 2,500 adults ages 22 to 24 had applied for the 1,000 summer jobs — an awful lot of adults considering summer-job youths as young as 14 are competing for those same 2,500 slots.

Ironically, the program is now called the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, whose namesake made quite a political statement when, during the Johnson and Nixon eras, he ran a public works/jobs program called Pride Inc. The program not only put him in touch with people starved for employment, but also people equally starved for self-governance. Nixon gave them both by signing the CETA measure and the D.C. Home Rule measure within days of each other in December 1973.

Said Miss Bowser upon signing the 2015 proposal, “We need to help them jump-start their lives.”

Hmm. Let’s see.

According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national jobless rate for April was 5.4 percent. Virginia’s was 7 percent. Nebraska’s 7.1 percent. The District’s 7.5 percent.

The overall May unemployment rate for youths 18-29 was 13.6 percent.

The summer jobs program, regardless of the Barry-affiliated name, is not going to push down that high rate.

Summer jobs are temporary jobs. They don’t last long enough — six to eight weeks — but they can surely have long-lasting effects.

Youths and parents can become dependent on the stipends, for food and other necessities, for sure. In too many circumstances, though, youths and parents become dependent on the money to buy school clothes, spend recklessly on summer fun they otherwise could not afford, and still fall way short of helping “them jump-start their lives.”

That is because of the three P’s — politicians, public school system and parents. Far too often, the latter have relinquished their responsibilities to the former, and the politicians aren’t held accountable for ruining the schools.

And the beat goes on.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a died-in-the-wool liberal, said Monday, “It is beyond comprehension that we, as a nation, have not focused attention on the fact that millions of young people are unable to find work and begin their careers in a productive economy.”

Not surprisingly, he has borrowed a page from a Democratic book written by Jimmy Carter and Mr. Clinton by co-introducing legislation with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan that would put $5.5 billion into a trough for state and local governments to employ 1 million 16- to 24-year-olds.

He and Mr. Conyers are on the wrong path.

Youths and young adults need marketable skills to plug into jobs, even those jobs that liberals claim do not pay livable wages. According to Forbes.com:

A mover can get a base hourly wage of $12.90, with an above-average job growth.

A warehouse worker, also $12.90, with above-average job growth.

The median wage for a store clerk is $9.60 with below-average job growth.

Do you still want to depend on politicians like Miss Bowser, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Conyers to jump-start young people’s lives?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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