EARN & LEARN is a summer youth employment program initiated by Mayor Tom Barrett and includes businesses, nonprofit, and community- and faith-based organizations along with the City of Milwaukee. EARN & LEARN’s mission is to assist young people from Milwaukee in making a successful transition from adolescence into adulthood by developing their job skills while gaining authentic work experience opportunities.
At every governmental level the scale of youth unemployment continues to challenge population growth in the labor market. In July, 2014 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded the number of unemployed youth as 3.4 million, down from 3.8 million in the prior year, reporting a youth unemployment rate of 13.6% (April –July; youth ages 16-24). While the economic recovery has staggered upward since 2012, it has not provided robust jobs growth (seasonal) for that population. It also shows noticeably stagnant disparities across gender and racial subgroups within the same age group.
According to a 2014 report by The Opportunity Nation Coalition, nearly 15 percent of young people (6 million) are neither in school or working. The analysis led to the conclusion that without previous work experience and no education credentials, youth jobseekers are less likely to command higher salaries and more likely to be an economic drain on their communities.
Youth employment opportunity is comparatively stifled by the intense competition for available jobs coupled with the difficulty noted in the same report, that without work experience, employers are less likely to consider making a job offer. Adding to difficulties in providing young people job opportunities, a US Conference of Mayors survey stated that 51.6% of employers projected no interest in hiring youth/young adults even when assisted by agencies that will facilitate pools of work-ready individuals. The challenges to employer engagement are further evidenced in the same survey where 84.3% of respondents indicated that they would not make contributions to a summer jobs program.
Mayor Barrett has made a priority of providing hope in the lives of young people in Milwaukee and the EARN & LEARN Program tackles the problem of youth unemployment on all fronts by addressing jobs for youth as an economic development strategy, a talent development strategy, and a basic counteraction to keeping our young people on the right track and giving them economic power.