U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a teleconference with reporters the administration had already worked with corporations and non-profits to come up with nearly 180,000 paid and unpaid opportunities for youths this coming summer and wants to boost that to at least 250,000 in the coming months through its "Summer Jobs+" program.
The administration's goal is for at least 100,000 of the placements to be in paid jobs and internships. The rest would be non-paid internships, and other mentoring and life- and job-skills learning situations.
Solis said the effort came about after Congress last year declined to approve President Barack Obama's proposal to spend $1.5 billion on summer and year-round employment for low-income people ages 16-24.
The labor secretary cited the importance of helping young people develop a work ethic, recounting how her own summer jobs as a youth "put me on the right path to working with youth and eventually to a career in public service."
"There is no replacement for the dignity that comes with earning your first paycheck," she said. "I challenge you to help us to meet this commitment to create more opportunities for young people. Summer jobs are good for our economy, they are good for our youth and they are good for our country."
Asked if the 180,000 positions already in hand were new opportunities or ones that would have been available regardless of the administration's initiative, Solis replied that they are "new opportunities."
"These aren't just things we're making up,' she said. "Believe me, this has been very successful."
Obama said in a statement the youth jobs campaign "is an all-hands-on-deck moment."
"America's young people face record unemployment, and we need to do everything we can to make sure they've got the opportunity to earn the skills and a work ethic that come with a job," he said. "It's important for their future, and for America's."
The administration said as part of its efforts it would start a Summer Jobs+ Bank within 60 days to provide young people with online access to potential employers.
Recovery Act funds were used in 2009 and 2010 to put more than 367,000 young people to work. When that money ran out, the number dropped to about 80,000 last summer.
The administration said 48.8 percent of those 16-24 had jobs last July, down from 59.2 percent five years earlier and 63.3 percent 10 years ago. Only 34.6 percent of African-American youths and 42.9 percent of Hispanic youths had a job in July.
"While young people who are currently disconnected from school or work are not contributing to our economy, we see these young people as 'Opportunity Youth' -- because of the untapped potential they bring to the nation," said Patty Stonesifer, chairwoman of the White House Council for Community Solutions.
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