The U.S. Department of Labor this week followed up on a promise to help expand opportunities for Baltimore youth, announcing a $5 million grant to the state of Maryland to fund a job training program for at-risk youth in the city.

“A principle that has guided me throughout my life is that we all succeed when we all succeed. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges facing our young people today, and we must do all we can to ensure that opportunity is available to all,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a statement. “This grant will offer young people in Baltimore who are at-risk of falling off the economic ladder, a chance to chart a new course, gain job skills and find stable, meaningful careers.”

The social and economic disadvantages experienced by Baltimore youth and the resulting disillusionment and despair were highlighted during recent riots that were ignited by the death of 25-year-old Sandtown resident Freddie Gray while in police custody.

The unrest spurred a national conversation about race, policing and the lack of access to equal opportunity experienced by youth in many inner-city communities, among other issues. The unemployment rate in Baltimore City—at last count in May—was 7.8 percent compared to 5.5 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the situation is much direr among youth. The unemployment rate for 16- to 19 year-olds in Baltimore City is over 40 percent, and nearly one in four of Baltimore’s 20- to 24 year-olds is unemployed, according to a recent study by the Abell Foundation.

The grant, administered by the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, will launch the One Baltimore for Jobs initiative, and is targeted to youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 29 who are neither enrolled in school nor currently working.

This demonstration project will test new strategies developed around best practices for boosting job success among youth. Its goals include:

  • Increasing access to occupational skills training in six key sectors:
  • health care, construction, technology, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics;
  • reducing barriers to employment and training by creating programs that can serve the needs of residents across the city; and,
  • supporting community-based projects and linkages by developing more workforce opportunities through dialogue and partnerships with local organizations.

The award to Baltimore is one of seven similar grants, totaling $22 million, awarded to cities with high poverty and unemployment rates.