Forty-nine years ago today, one of the signature accomplishments of the Great Society officially became law. “On this occasion,” President Lyndon Johnson said as he put his name on the Economic Opportunity Act, “the American people and our American system are making history.” He declared that the landmark legislation “will strike at poverty’s roots” in a way that “is prudent and practical . . . consistent with our national ideals.” The Economic Opportunity Act was designed to expand pathways to opportunity for millions of people who had been living in the shadows.
One of the bill’s key elements was the establishment of Job Corps, a program run by the U.S. Department of Labor, which is now coming to New Hampshire for the very first time. I will be in Manchester today with local elected officials and others to break ground on the new Job Corps center.
Job Corps is a residential training and education program for low-income young people ages 16-24. Many are homeless or aging out of foster care, and roughly three-quarters of them are high-school dropouts. Job Corps provides a second chance and renewed hope, opening doors of opportunity that had been bolted shut.
The program allows disadvantaged youth to obtain the skills necessary to succeed in good jobs. Graduates are able to launch careers in everything from auto maintenance to IT, from health care to hospitality, from construction to finance.
The training curriculum is aligned with the workforce needs of businesses, providing the certifications necessary to become immediately employable.
The Job Corps curriculum includes work-based learning opportunities and on-the-job training, as well as transitional support – including job placement, housing, child care and transportation – for up to 21 months after completing the program. There is an academic as well as an occupational component – kids who haven’t completed high school can earn their high school diploma or GED. Job Corps also teaches (and demands of its students) other essential skills like discipline, teamwork, leadership, communication and problem-solving. It empowers youths with all the tools needed to move into full-time jobs, or transition to the military or two or four-year colleges, as many Job Corps graduates do.
The program is free of charge. The only “payment” required of the student is a willingness to learn and a commitment to improve as an individual, a worker and a valued contributor to the community.
We cannot afford to squander any human capital. We cannot give up on these young people and their potential.
As a matter of the nation’s economic competitiveness and its commitment to social justice, we must build for them ladders of opportunity, with sturdy rungs that they can reach through hard work, ingenuity and initiative.
Serving 60,000 young people a year and some 1.5 million over the life of the program, Job Corps embodies American values at their very best. It is living, breathing truth that no matter where you come from, if you work hard and apply yourself, if you are willing to learn and adapt, you can find a pathway to the middle class and capture your share of the American Dream.
Thanks to the tenacious leadership of many local officials, this time-honored and innovative program will soon make a difference here in the Granite State. Located a few miles from downtown Manchester, the New Hampshire Job Corps Center is scheduled for completion in January 2015.
Enrollment is due to begin later that year, but interested students can contact the Job Corps hotline (800-733-JOBS) now for information about all centers and programs. Anyone can also learn more by visitingjobcorps.gov.
In his White House Rose Garden remarks on Aug. 20, 1964, Johnson said of Job Corps: “For the millions of young men and women who are out of school and out of work, this program will . . . .take them off the streets, put them into work training programs (and) prepare them for productive lives.”
Productive lives, opportunity and, in the words of the program motto, success that lasts a lifetime: these values, which have allowed Job Corps to thrive for nearly half a century, will sustain it for the next half century and beyond, including now here in New Hampshire.
(Tom Perez is the U.S. secretary of labor.)