Dulling the Double-Edged Sword: Immigration Reform in the Senate

Much of the media’s spotlight in the past few weeks has been shining on the debate and passage of the immigration bill in the Senate. However, within a package of amendments is a nugget of good news for youth workforce development advocates as well.

Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, along with six other Senators, authored a “Youth Jobs” amendment that appropriated $1.5 billion to youth employment programs. Some may consider this amendment irrelevant to the underlying purpose of the bill. Because the amendment affects all low-income youth, not just young undocumented-immigrants and “DREAMers,” critics could argue that it is outside the scope of the bill’s purpose. That assessment would be mistaken, however, as an influx of guest workers for low-wage and seasonal labor will hurt young workers the most. This amendment therefore stems the harm that may come from depressed wages and/or decreasing opportunities by providing training and employment tailored for youth.

The funds will be spent over two years with a minimum of $7.5 million going to each state. Amounts above that will be tied to the state’s unemployment rate. The program will be funded with a one-time $10 fee on each guest worker visa application that businesses use to bring in workers. Possible programs it could fund include job training during both the summer and the year for low-income students eligible for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programming. These programs will be linked to educational opportunities in order to provide long-term value for these young workers. It is estimated that this amendment will create 400,000 jobs for the youth aged 16-24.

Fresh appropriations to youth workforce development are a small, but welcome infusion to decreased workforce investment spending. Youth unemployment remains high (over 16% for adolescents aged 16-24), and experiencing unemployment when young is very damaging to future career prospects. Thus, it is prudent to bolster funding to WIA programs. The best situation would be to actually reauthorize WIA, but this amendment is a step in the right direction.

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