This summer marks the ninth year of SummerWorks, a public-private partnership that puts youth to work in our community during the summer. Following our SummerWorks kickoff this Friday in Portland, more than 1,100 interns will begin their jobs across Multnomah and Washington counties.
More than 34,000 young people aged 16 to 24 are out of school and out of work in the Portland metro area. Without a sustained commitment to our youth, they will face additional barriers to realizing their full potential as active and engaged citizens. At the same time, regional employers who offer family-wage jobs in industries such as health care, construction, manufacturing and information technology face a growing shortage of skilled workers.
But SummerWorks is more than just a paycheck. There is no better place to learn the skills needed to be successful at work than work itself. Research shows that youth who work are more likely to return to school, have a job in subsequent years and earn more money in their lifetimes. They are also less likely to engage in crime and other high-risk behaviors.
From the inception of the program in 2009, more than 5,000 young people have participated. And the results speak volumes: 93 percent returned to high school, post-secondary school or became employed. Moreover, a study conducted by Oregon State University found that $1.20 was returned to our local economy for every $1 spent on youth wages.
Since 2000, the summer employment rate for teens has plummeted from 53 percent to 32 percent. And the numbers are significantly worse for low-income youth and youth of color. Nationally, the jobless rate for teen-age African Americans is 27 percent.
Over the coming months, we'll work to increase the number and variety of work experiences available to local young people. We'll implement new tools to certify the readiness of our young job seekers, and expand connections with local employers to ensure all our youth have the opportunities to fully participate in the region's growing economic success.
This summer Multnomah County will host 650 of the more than 1,100 SummerWorks interns in our region. This has been a priority for the county since this program launched in 2011 with 25 interns. Even in this challenging budget atmosphere, the Multnomah County Board invested more than $2 million in this program because we believe that the opportunity to succeed should be available to everyone.
SummerWorks is a locally supported initiative of Multnomah County, Worksystems, Inc., the cities of Portland and Beaverton, Washington County, TriMet, Portland Public Schools, the Hillsboro School District, the Oregon Department of Human Services and local private businesses.
Despite the benefits of work, and a favorable labor market, far too many of our young people continue to struggle. Join us in these efforts to support summer jobs. The program can't succeed without our partners from the private sector. This program is an opportunity for private industry to become engaged, active members of our community.
If you're interested in hosting a SummerWorks intern, we are still looking for more job placement opportunities. Contact Roland Chlapowski at 503-478-7332 or email@example.com.
Thank you Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Loretta Smith for contributing to this Op-Ed.