CityViews: Want to Help Young Immigrants? Get Them into the Workforce.

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Christian Bucad/Copyright 2009 Yume Photo

Young adult immigrant New Yorkers face a serious unemployment crisis that could be offset by investing in various opportunities for small businesses. Workforce development programs are a time-tested model to train workers and put them on a pathway to meaningful employment but are often not seen as an option for many young adults.

We know that New York’s immigrant communities play a critical role in our economy as they make up 43 percent of the city’s workforce. This is especially true in New York City with more than one third of the city’s economic activity and more than one third of all wages going to immigrant workers.

A recent report by Young Invincibles found that 14 percent of 16-to-24 year olds are unemployed and out of school across New York State. Unfortunately, the situation is even more dire for young adult immigrants in New York City where 32 percent of 19-to-24 year old foreign-born city immigrants are out of school and not working altogether.

As New York strives to be a national leader with policies that make clear our commitment to immigrants, creating stronger pipelines to meaningful employment opportunities must be core to advancing that work.

Communities with large immigrant populations have been experiencing some of the fastest business growth. In Queens, immigrants make up more than 60 percent of the workforce. Those same communities are experiencing 29-to-50 percent business growth—significantly more than the citywide business growth average of about 13 percent.

With 99 percent of businesses considered small businesses and accounting for more than half of the state’s total workforce, New York’s small businesses have a major role to play in tackling the state’s young adult unemployment situation. This is also particularly true of communities with high concentrations of both immigrants and small businesses.

One community where small businesses play a particularly prominent role is in Flushing, Queens where more than two thirds of businesses had fewer than five employees and 80 percent had fewer than 10 workers. Immigrants make up more than half of the Flushing community population, which has experienced a 50 percent business growth rate—making clear that immigrants are critical to the economic health of our city’s communities.

One of the local leaders in this work is Asian Americans for Equality, an organization that operates an entrepreneurial training program and provides micro loans to small business owners. Their work is supported by a new law that requires the state to award a percentage of Small Business Revolving Loan Fund loans to “micro businesses” (those with fewer than five employees) seeking loans under $25,000.

Given the strength of our immigrant communities and the alarmingly high level of foreign-born young adults who are disconnected from school and employment, New York State should invest in evidence-based opportunities that train disadvantaged young adults and link them to a family-sustaining career.

More resources from New York are needed to offset training costs so small firms, which may need support growing their business, can train and hire disadvantaged young adult workers. Strategies we can immediately employ this budget session include repurposing the resources used from the Urban Youth Jobs Program, which was found to be ineffective, to expand pre-apprenticeship programs and passing the Empire State Apprenticeship Program. The latter would offer grants to small businesses and nonprofits across the state to set up programs of their own and would offer bigger businesses tax credits to hire disadvantaged young adults as apprentices. Apprenticeships offer a rigorous curriculum, on-the-job training, and a decent paycheck that could help lift disadvantaged young adult immigrant New Yorkers out of poverty and into the working-class.

Additionally, the state should also use some of the resources from the Urban Youth Jobs Program to support flexible training grants available to workforce development organizations that are working with employers in their community to provide targeted training.

The bottom line is that New York’s growing small business community in highly populated immigrant communities presents an opportunity to tackle high young adult immigrant unemployment by investing in training opportunities that are directly related to a career.

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New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic represents the Queens neighborhoods of Flushing, Queensboro Hill, Hillcrest, Fresh Meadows, Oakland Gardens, Bayside, and Douglaston. Kevin Stump is the Northeast Director of Young Invincibles.

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