Massachusetts is facing the loss of thousands of summer jobs for lower income and working class teens as federal and state dollars dry up.
The jobs give teens an alternative to the streets, as well as key employment skills and needed income for their families, according to advocates for restoring the funding.
“I am compelled to stand up for these funds,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat. “For so many kids in my district, these line items are quite literally a matter of life and death.”
The loss of funding comes as Massachusetts gradually emerges from a punishing recession. Despite the brightening fiscal outlook, jobs are still scarce, particularly for teens looking for entry level positions, said Lew Finfer, an organizer with the statewide Youth Jobs Coalition.
“Because of the recession, teens have less access to private sector jobs than in the past and are facing more competition from desperate adults,” he said.
On the federal level, Massachusetts had received about $16 million in stimulus dollars, which helped pay for more than 10,000 jobs for teens in 2009 and 2010. The end of the stimulus dollars means an estimated 2,500 fewer summer jobs this year, Finfer said.
The state has also funded the summer jobs.
Last year, Beacon Hill lawmakers approved $8 million for YouthWorks, the state’s main youth jobs program. So far this year, lawmakers have approved $4 million in a supplemental budget, though they may approve more.
The House version of the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would add another $2 million, still short of last year’s $8 million.
But a Senate budget plan unveiled last Wednesday added no additional funding, which could result in the loss of another 2,400 jobs on top of the 2,500 lost federally funded jobs — a total of 4,900 jobs.
Democratic leaders in the state Senate acknowledged their budget is “painful” and said the recent recession forced deep spending cuts. Still, lawmakers said they tried to protect key services like adult day care and domestic violence programs.
“We have worked our way through this spending plan with a scalpel, making precise and educated cuts where necessary,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen Brewer, D-Barre.
Politicians often point to the need to give young people an alternative to the streets in the summer months, but teens say the work experience and extra money is equally important.
Allain Cherenfant, a 19-year-old student at the City on a Hill school in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood said the money he earned at the job he had from ages 15 to 18 at a nonprofit agency helped his family pay phone and cable bills.
“There aren’t a lot of opportunities like these for inner city kids to help support their families,” he said. He added that without jobs, some of his friends could slip into prostitution or drug dealing.
When the Senate begins its budget debate on Wednesday, there are amendments to restore summer jobs funding. Chang-Diaz, whose district includes the neighborhoods of Chinatown, the South End, Jamaica Plain and part of Mattapan, is sponsoring some of those amendments.
Gov. Deval Patrick is also pushing for more jobs money and planning to use $2 million in federal criminal justice funding to partially offset the loss of federal summer jobs funding. That money could help fund up to 1,200 jobs.
Massachusetts isn’t alone in grappling with a summer jobs drought.
A report released last month by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University concluded the annual average employment rate for teens in 2010 was the lowest recorded since the end of World War II.
The study found that during the past decade, the employment rate of the nation’s teens fell by nearly 19 percentage points, from nearly 46 percent to under 27 percent, with male teens faring worse than females.
“The substantial drop in teen employment prospects has had a devastating effect on the youngest teens (16-17), males, blacks, low-income youth, and inner city, minority males,” the study said. It added that “public policy-makers at the national level have failed youth miserably.”