President Barack Obama campaigned last week to promote his plans for job training and job creation that he claimed would expand the country’s middle class, fully aware that the Job Corps program had suspended enrollment in January due to gross bureaucratic mismanagement of the country’s largest job-training program for low-income youths, particularly African Americans.
The freeze started in January and is expected to last until June 30. That did not stop Obama from making lofty promises in his State of the Union address last week about job creation.
The enrollment freeze could prevent as many as “30,000 young adults struggling in a troubled economy” from getting jobs and cost another 10,000 staff jobs.
Job Corps has been described as a “vanguard” of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s so-called war on poverty. Since opening its first center in 1965, the free program gave “young adults a chance to earn a high school diploma, receive vocational training or earn certifications in more than 100 specializations.”
That was until 2011, when Job Corps faced a $30 million shortfall and had to temporarily implement a freeze for the first time in the program’s history. Job Corps reportedly has a $61.5 million budget shortfall now, which led to an even more prolonged freeze.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) speculated whether the enrollment freeze was due to a “management failure” and has requested an audit of the budget. He intends to hold hearings within weeks in the Senate on the matter.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said the “timing of the freeze could not be worse,” because “though our economy is adding jobs, the number of unemployed remains high.”
The unemployment rate for young adults ages 16 to 24 was 17.4% in January; for African American young adults, a demographic that makes up nearly half of Job Corps students, the unemployment rate is a staggering 28%.
Labor Department spokesperson Carl A. Fillichio said the “decision to suspend the enrollment was not made lightly,” and Job Corps would be conducting “an exhaustive review of its current operating costs.”
The freeze has devastated young adults in Obama’s backyard, who are now left without the hope Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 promised them.
Teryn McRae, a 20-year-old Washington, D.C. resident who had been approved for Job Corps and was set to start his training on Feb. 5. told the Washington Post the enrollment freeze “crushed” him because “all my avenues are closed.”
“I felt like all my windows and doors of opportunity closed,” he said.
A Job Corps Center in Southwest Washington, D.C. was slated to have 317 new students. Those students will not be enrolled, and the center may shed 107 jobs.