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Shared Prosperity in Camden: A Shot at Success, No Matter Where You Start

Filed in Jobs, Unemployment, Workforce Development By on August 20, 2015

Editor’s note: Leading up to Labor Day 2015, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling across the country to talk with America’s workers, business owners, and state and local leaders about how we can work together to build shared prosperity for a stronger America. Follow him along the way with live updates at and join the conversation using #LaborDay2015.

For the third stop on his tour, Secretary Perez is in Camden, New Jersey, to emphasize that your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your destiny. For too many communities, and especially for young people of color, persistent opportunity gaps mean young Americans are falling behind. Closing these gaps is not just as a matter of basic fairness, it’s also critical to maintaining our competitiveness in the global economy.

This administration is committed to expanding opportunity for young people in disadvantaged communities, including Camden.

The poverty rate for residents under 18 is nearly 50 percent and the youth unemployment rate is over 15 percent. Gang and drug influences can be difficult to escape, and breaking free from the cycle of poverty crime and incarceration is an overwhelming struggle for many.

To address this issue head-on, the Labor Department is working with a range of partners. For example, we are making investments in Camden through the YouthBuild program to create career pathways in construction, health care and IT.

YouthBuild Camden serves young people ages 16-24 by providing education, occupational, job development and life skills classes. They earn a high school equivalency certificate and receive assistance with placement in a postsecondary education opportunity or employment. Students spend 40 percent of the program learning on-the-job training with an opportunity to earn $8.50 per hour.

After touring the Youth Build facility, Secretary Perez met Dhameir Mason, an 18-year-old who has grown up in Camden. After several of his friends were arrested for drug involvement, his mother decided to move the family to Georgia for a fresh start. But Dhameir became homesick and moved back to Camden to live with his grandmother. Dhameir knew that he needed to get on the right track for the sake of his family and his little sister.

He decided to register at Camden High School’s Excel Academy to finish his high school diploma. Thanks to a program there funded by a Labor Department grant, Dhameir had access to helpful services like case management, job readiness, service learning, vocation trainings, and mentoring.

“The program helped me stick with it and get through. Now I surround myself with positive people who also want to keep their life on track. I’d rather positive than negative any day.”

Those services opened up opportunities like his summer job with the Camden YMCA as a youth counselor. He hopes that by working at the YMCA he can help shape young people’s lives so that they, too, have a chance to succeed.

Now Dhameir has graduated and has been accepted to Rowan University. Inspired by his mother’s work with mentally ill patients, Dhameir plans to puruse a career in the medical field.

For the third stop of the day,

we crossed the Delaware River to visit Connection Training Services and their partners at Energy Coordinating Agency in Philadelphia. Through hands-on training, they are addressing youth unemployment by giving students the skills to build homes from the ground up. At ECA, we were greeted by David, the lead instructor at the facility. He told Secretary Perez that ever since his dad, a plumber, put a tool in his young hand, he has devoted his life to working with his hands and training others. David went through the program at ECA and worked his way up, now sharing his knowledge with other students.

We want to hear what it means for you to have a chance to succeed, no matter where you start. Tell us here.

Stay tuned for more of Secretary Perez’s travels at Next stop: Detroit!

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