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By Juleyka Lantigua

Summer_jobs This summer, there’s good news for many Black and Latino youth around the country. The federal government has designated $1.2 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package for the creation and support of summer jobs for disadvantaged youth.

Nationally, unemployment for 16-to-19-year-olds is nearly 23 percent, more than double the 9.2 percent overall unemployment rate. But Black and Latino youth suffer disproportionately higher unemployment rates. As of May 2009, Latinos aged 16-19 faced a 31 percent unemployment rate. Black teens have to contend with an unemployment rate of 34 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics latest report.

Though program requirements for federally funded summer jobs will vary from state to state, participants will largely come from low-income families, underserved areas and from groups who face greater challenges in accessing jobs, like the disabled, high school dropouts and those who have no previous work experience or training.

This seasonal focus on hard-hit populations will have a lasting impact on Latinos and Blacks, who tend to outpace the general population in undesirable categories like dropout rates, youth crime and poverty. Reaching out to young people who may already have one or two strikes working against them will have immediate economic and social impacts across communities in need. Providing job training, professional skills and mentorship for at-risk youth can create viable options for meaningful work, motivate them to continue their education, and help them feel valued and productive.

In New York City, which has large Black and Latino populations, the unemployment rate among 16-to-19-year-olds doubled in the past year to 22 percent, according to state estimates. This summer, $18.5 million in stimulus funds will help add 13,378 jobs, for a total of 51,000, which is 8,000 more than existed last year. Demand is so high that weeks before the May 15 deadline, the program had already received 81,000 applications, according to the Department of Youth and Community Development. Participants will earn $7.25 an hour, and also receive training in financial literacy and job skills.

Economically, teens are avid consumers, so much of their earnings will be funneled right back into the economy as they use their earnings to buy music, go to the movies, buy used cars, new clothes, and the status-defining electronics of the moment.

Stimulus dollars were distributed to all states, from about $3 million for Wyoming and South Dakota and other low-population states to $186 million for California, which is among the most populated states. The combined effect will be much greater than the billion-dollar expenditure may signify, as countless teens will have transformative experiences that can take them down entirely different paths, leading to college or trade school or full-time employment after summer ends.

The White House estimates that stimulus money will create 125,000 jobs for low-income youths this summer. The positive effect of all those teens hard at work will ripple out to their families, schools, communities and the whole country, positively impacting millions. That’s the type of stimulus we need to make permanent.

Juleyka Lantigua is a writer whose work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers around the world.

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