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Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett Discusses Youth Employment

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Young people 16-24 are unemployed at more than twice the national average, and teenagers are unemployed at more than three times the national average. Youth Radio reporter Ashley Williams interviews Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, about Youth Jobs+, a program piloted by the White House to create summer job opportunities for thousands of young people across the nation.

Below is an excerpt from the Q & A with Valerie Jarrett:

ASHLEY WILLIAMS: Unemployment for 16-24 year olds is more than double the national average, and for teenagers 16-19, it’s more than triple the national average. Why is youth unemployment so high?

VALERIE JARRETT: Well, as you know, when the president took office over four and a half years ago, our economy was going through the worst recession since the great depression. This did have a disproportionate effect on young people. Oftentimes employers make the decisions on who they lay off based on who was the last to come in the door... Those are unfortunately the first ones to lose their positions.

So, the President’s top priority since he took office has been growing our economy, growing the middle class, strengthening it, and providing ladders of opportunity for those who are not in the middle class to move into the middle class. Specifically, he has targeted young people for a variety of different reasons. Not just because it’s important that they have those dollars --and for many young people those dollars are vitally important to themselves and for their families, but also because having work experience early in life, creates opportunities for mentors, it exposes young people to a range of opportunities that they may not have thought about.

I love to tell the story about Ursula Burns who grew up poor, living in public housing. But she had an aptitude for STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Early on as a young person, she was able to get an internship with Xerox Corporation. It had never occurred to her to work for a huge company before, but once she got her foot in the door, she discovered this passion she had for engineering, and today she’s the CEO of Xerox.

WILLIAMS: This year the White House launched Youth Jobs+. Other than the name, how has the program changed since Summer Jobs+ was piloted a year ago?

JARRETT: One of the things we learned as a result of last year’s program, which was very successful -- we created over 300,000 jobs around the country and we had a lot of support from the private sector and local governments. This year we thought in our conversations with mayors around the country that it would be important to let them take the leadership role because they’re closer to the ground, they’re in the communities, they have relationships with the business community, that could be instrumental in this effort...

Mayor Nutter from Philadelphia who chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors, took the mantle and he said, ‘Let me take the leadership,’ and encouraged mayors across the country to engage in this effort.

WILLIAMS: More than 40% of black & brown teens report that they are unemployed. Why are teens of color so much less likely to find work, and what can be done to change that?

JARRETT: Making sure that they have access to quality education, making sure that we’re doing everything we can in elementary and secondary education, and then making college affordable and accessible. Oftentimes job opportunities are not immediately accessible, they’re not in the community where young people are living, and so encouraging employers to look into areas that have been underserved in terms of providing job opportunities, and targeting the youth in those areas is something else that’s a part of our initiative going on this summer with the mayors. We have to make sure all young people have access to those job opportunities, not just a fortunate few.

WILLIAMS: Did you have jobs as a young person? And if so, are there things you learned that helped you later in your professional life?

JARRETT: First, I worked without getting paid in the summers for my dad who had a laboratory at the University of Chicago. I would go over there and I would work in the lab, and just get used to getting up every morning and going to the office with him.

As soon as I was old enough to work I had two jobs. One, I was a clinic coordinator at University of Chicago, so I was the person when you go to the hospital at a clinic and you meet a person at the desk and they take your name and they find out why you’re there, and they order whatever test the physician wants ordered, and keep track of medical records, I did that. And at the same time that summer, I had a second job as a docent at the Museum of Science Industry.

Those early experiences I had in Chicago taught me a lot about the city and gave me a passion for giving back to the city I grew up in and has really shaped my career. So I encourage all young people to take advantage of that opportunity if they have it, and to try hard to find it. You might have to start out by volunteering, like I did in my father’s lab, and you have to prove yourself. After that perhaps someone will bring you on part-time and that will lead to a full time position. You have to sacrifice in the beginning and that will pay off enormously later on in life.

WILLIAMS: Why is it in the best interest of the business community to engage in employing youth? How does that affect the American economy going forward?

JARRETT: It strengthens our economy to have young people a part of the workplace. They’re being productive, they’re earning an income, they’re able to go out and spend that money which is good for the economy. Many young people are contributing to their family income, so providing a little extra money in the pockets of their family is important. All of that helps get our economy going again.

I want to encourage all young people out there: Don’t give up because it’s hard. Keep looking for jobs. Take advantage of any opportunities there are to improve your education so your skills are up to speed when that job opportunity comes along.

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

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