This year is the first year of the Summer Youth Employment Program under Mayor Gray. The program was started in 1979 under former Mayor, now Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. It has employed youth all across the city between ages 14-21 years old and pays the youth to work in D.C. government agencies and local businesses.
This year the program has been capped at 12,000 participants and the vetting process for youth to get into the program is more strenuous. This year’s participant’s is down from the 20,000 youth who participated last year under former Mayor Fenty when the program had no participant cap.
Participants are required to go through a mandatory orientation session and employers have the opportunity to interview students before they are hired. Also new this year applicants were required to apply online.
The online process speeds up the processing, however, even in this tech-savy world, many students and youth still do not have ready access to internet, thus limiting the applicants. This issue particularly hits wards 7 and 8 because these two wards are considered the poorest wards in the city and the rate of illiteracy is high.
Dottie Green, a mother of a child who was not accepted this year, said “I like that the process is moving from paper to internet registration, however I don’t have a computer at home. My child and I went to the public library to apply.” She said that she and her 17 year-old son went on the weekend because she has to work during the week.
Lakisha Smith, a Ward 7 resident and student said she just didn’t bother to apply this year because the process was harder than it had been before. “I really should have applied. I really wanted to work this summer, but I just didn’t feel like going through the new application process. I kinda feel like they’re trying to weed people out.”
Officials at D.O.E.S. declined to comment for this article, but said that under this new system they are able to provide more efficient jobs for summer youths within the budget. Officials for the program also said they are trying to establish a precedent for the future of the program.