D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) urged the D.C. Council to provide more job training and employment opportunities to District residents through the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program. Established in 1979 to introduce low-income youth, ages 14-21, to the workforce, Bowser hopes to have the eligibility age permanently increased to include those up age 24.


D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) urged the D.C. Council to provide more job training to residents below the age of 24. (Courtesy Photo)

“We must ensure that D.C.’s prosperity is reaching residents in every ward, in every neighborhood,” she said in a statement on Jan. 27. “To do this, we need to expand opportunity and ensure more residents have the skills and training they need for the jobs in D.C.”

Bowser said her desire to broaden the scope of the employment program comes at a time when more young people, particularly those in Wards 7 and 8, report experiencing issues related to skills, placement, and access. Nearly 60 percent of participants came from Wards 7 and 8, where unemployment rates and the opportunity gap are the highest.

And while the SYEP initially served 22,000 exclusively low-income young people and was funded by the federal government, as of 2012, the program served 14,000 young people ages 14-21 from a variety of economic backgrounds, and was funded with local dollars (the 2011 program cost the District roughly $11.5 million). In 2015, Bowser expanded the program to include D.C. residents ages 22-24. In 2016, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) received 2,688 applications from young adults ages 22 to 24 – a 6.4 percent increase from 2015. Of the 2,688 applicants, DOES certified more than 1,000 young adults to participate in the program.

“By permanently expanding MBSYEP, we can give more young Washingtonians the opportunity to gain the skills, work habits, and connections needed to compete in our city’s thriving economy,” Bowser said.

Ward 8 resident Rochelle Smith said she sees the program as a buffer between college and careers. “By extending the age for participation, the summer youth program will help me until I figure out what to do next since Westwood College closed,” Smith, who was 19-months into a criminology degree program told the AFRO before the Denver based for-profit institution shut down in 2016. “A lot of my classmates are in the same boat because the college shut down unexpectedly and many of us were only working part-time due to class schedules. We’re over 21, so the age increase is a lifeline.”

But the desire to expand the jobs program has some residents voicing concerns about the cost of training at a time when the city may be least able to afford it. “At a time when the city is overrun with returning citizens, unskilled residents of all ages, and a lot of economic uncertainty, my concern is how the mayor and council intend to fund this,” Ward 7 Gerald Ransome told the AFRO. “In this area 30 is the new 20 – these jokers out here are just getting their first taste of employment and professional development at thirty . . . my tax dollars should not have to go to that. At some point, it should be about personal development paid for by the individual who wants it and not the city.”

More than 6,000 online applications were submitted within 20 minutes of the website launching. In the program, 14- and 15-year-olds earn $5.25 an hour; 16- through 21-year-olds earn $8.25 an hour; and 22- through 24-year-olds earn $11.50 an hour.