Durbin, Kelly Introduce Legislation to Address Youth Unemployment in High Poverty Areas

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) today unveiled two pieces of legislation they will introduce when Congress is back in session next week to expand and increase access to employment opportunities for at-risk youth. The Helping to Encourage Real Opportunity (HERO) for At-Risk Youth Act and the Creating Pathways for Youth Employment Act will increase federal resources for communities seeking to create or grow employment programs and provide tax incentives to businesses and employers to hire and retain youth from economically distressed areas.


“The best anti-poverty, anti-crime, anti-violence program is a job," Durbin said. "That’s why Congresswoman Kelly and I are introducing two bills that will help provide our nation’s youth with increased opportunities for employment. Chicago needs the federal government to be an engaged partner when it comes to expanding economic opportunity, and I will continue working to achieve this goal.”


"A few weeks ago, I hosted my 4th annual youth job expo. I saw hundreds of young people hungry for the opportunity to find a job and work. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities or our young people lack the needed skills to fill the positions. Taken together, these bills will help create jobs, and give young people the opportunity to succeed," said Congresswoman Robin Kelly. "I always say: 'Nothing stops a bullet like an opportunity,' so let's create opportunities for our young people that grow the economy, strengthen our communities and stop the violence."


In 2014, there were more than 5 million low-income 16 to 24 year-olds in the United States who were both out of school and out of work. In Illinois, the number of unemployed and out of school youth ages 20 to 24 was nearly 17 percent in 2015, and in Chicago, the rate was nearly 22 percent. And among young people of color in Chicago, joblessness is even more chronic and concentrated with the rate of out-of-school and out-of-work youth at nearly 40 percent for Black youth and more than 20 percent for Latino youth ages 20-24. 


These statistics reflect a long-term trend in communities nationwide that was exacerbated by the recent recession. Many of the youth living in neighborhoods with highly concentrated poverty and unemployment are stuck in a vicious cycle that finds them lacking the necessary job experiences that prevent them from getting hired by potential employers. These barriers to employment result in economic conditions that may motivate these young people to engage in criminal activity. These factors also make at-risk youth significantly more likely to become victims of violent crime.


The HERO for At-Risk Youth Act would encourage the business community to become a partner in addressing this crisis by hiring at-risk youth that reside in communities with high rates of poverty. Specifically, the bill would provide a tax credit of up to $2,400 for businesses that hire and train youth ages 16-25 who are out of school and out of work. The legislation would also expand the summer youth program under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which provides a tax credit to businesses which hire for summer employment youth ages 16-17 who are enrolled in school and who live in highly distressed urban communities known as Empowerment Zones, by doubling the amount of the credit to $2,400 and expanding the program to include year-round employment.


Durbin and Kelly are also introducing the Creating Pathways for Youth Employment Act, which will make it easier for local governments and community organizations to apply directly for federal funding to create and expand summer and year-round employment programs for young people. The legislation would establish a five-year, $1.5 billion competitive grant program for youth summer employment and a five-year, $2 billion competitive grant program for youth year-round employment that will provide financial support for communities seeking to create, improve, or grow summer and year-round employment opportunities for youth ages 14-24. Fifty percent of funds would be reserved for programs serving in-school youth, and fifty percent would be reserved for programs serving out-of-school youth.  Both grant programs would provide planning grants of up to $200,000 for 12 months or implementation grants of up to $5 million over 3 years.