Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and urged all of America to join him in working to end poverty in the United States. For decades since, slowly but surely, this national War on Poverty has been making a difference in improving the lives of Americans. If you include the social safety net that President Johnson and later generations helped to construct the poverty rate has fallen from 26% in 1967 to 15% in 2014, even despite the devastating recent recession.
And since its inception, one of the War on Poverty’s signature initiatives has been the Job Corps, a public-private partnership that helps young people learn the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. Jobs Corps has long been a popular program on both sides of the aisle for a reason. Across 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, it has helped give a second chance at life for over two million young men and women who may have gotten behind the curve at a very early age. Because it has helped so many economically disadvantaged young people acquire the technical and vocational education they need to pursue opportunity, we have more future EMTs, chefs, nurses, carpenters, small businesswomen, and workers all over the country, ready to compete in the 21st century economy.
I have seen the difference Job Corps makes for young people firsthand. I was proud to take part in the opening of Connecticut’s very first Job Corps Center in 1996, and served as their graduation speaker a year later. Today, the New Haven Jobs Corps Center is one of the best in the nation. Armed with the skills they need to thrive, its graduates work everywhere from local businesses to Yale-New Haven Hospital to the Department of Homeland Security.
But despite its popularity and proven record of success, the Jobs Corps has been a victim of the budget battles in Washington in recent years. Adjusting for inflation and population growth, the program’s funding was already cut by $194 million between 2010 and 2014.
As the Senior Democrat on the committee overseeing Job Corps funding, I have been working hard to support the good work Job Corps Centers do. This is why I have introduced legislation that would return Job Corps funding to its pre-sequester level in 2015. I am proud to have fought to secure extra funding for the program, so that the student enrollment freeze could be lifted last year. And I will continue to work to see Job Corps put on a sustainable path, so that centers can increase the number of students they serve.
No investment is more criticalthan investment in our people. If we do not invest in our youth now, we will not just lose our ability to compete in the global economy – we will fail to reach the full potential of this generation. For 50 years, Jobs Corps has been that critical investment in our future. We should support the good work it does for another 50 years, and beyond.
Rosa DeLauro is the U.S. Representative for Connecticut's 3rd congressional district.