From a makeshift stage in Harlem on Tuesday, Representative Charlie Rangel, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Assemblyman Keith Wright, and leaders from the National Urban League, a nonprofit social services provider, touted proposed legislation to combat youth unemployment. Termed the Urban Jobs Act, during its first year the legislation would provide $20 million in grants to national nonprofits like the National Urban League. The funding would be used in targeted areas by local affiliates like the New York Urban League, whose offices hosted the assemblage.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican idea,” Sen. Gillilbrand proclaimed, flanked by Democrats. “This is a good idea.”
The Urban Jobs Act would provide 18- to 24-year-olds with case management, GED preparation, job skills training, internships, support services like childcare and housing and more. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, 39 percent of young African-Americans were unemployed in July, while 36 percent of young Latinos were unemployed.
Facing such a dire situation, $20 million might seem paltry. “It’s a start,” said 17-year-old Curtis High School student Toyibat Oridami, who had trekked to Harlem from Staten Island with her peers in a New York Urban League college readiness class. Their teacher, Quincy Dunlap, said the Urban Jobs Act would serve his students well. Dunlap explained that the funding would help New York Urban League youth get internships and part-time jobs after school. “We could couple those two components [of school and work] for students during the hours of 3-8 p.m., which is when they get into the trouble, right?” Dunlap said with a laugh.
Others were less hopeful about the proposed legislation, saying job skills aren’t the cause of youth unemployment. “The biggest problem is there’s just a massive job shortage,” Northeastern University professor Andrew Sum told the Huffington Post.
Despite the climate of the current Congress, Rep. Rangel predicted the chances of the Urban Jobs Act passing at “very good,” saying one shouldn’t read too much into Tuesday’s lackluster Republican attendance in Harlem. He noted there are currently no Republicans in his district. “I’m certain [Rep.] Peter King–who’s my buddy from New York–would be a co-sponsor” of the Urban Jobs Act, Rep. Rangel said after the event. (A spokesman for Rep. King did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.)