May 10, 2010; Source: USA Today | What happens to AmeriCorps participants who want apply the skills they’ve learned in their two years of community service? With national unemployment rising to 9.9 percent in April (after hovering around 9.7 percent for the first three months of the calendar year), the job market doesn’t offer AmeriCorps graduates the prospects they might have hoped for.
According to USA Today, unemployment is 26 percent for teenagers and 16 percent for persons aged 20 to 24. The problem is not just overall employment challenges in the economy; it is the troubled financial condition of many of the nonprofits that have provided jobs for AmeriCorps participants. Because of reduced charitable and foundation giving and cutbacks in local and state government grants and contracts, many nonprofits do not have access to the money they need to keep these AmeriCorps participants, even at their below-minimum-wage salary levels, on staff.
Solutions anyone? Here are a few: Compelled by the reality of the recession, we might think about “re-purposing” AmeriCorps to be more like a New Deal-era emergency employment program for young people who need the jobs, incomes, health benefits, and educational benefits, and come up with more stimulus money to extend the AmeriCorps terms for current participants. We might also think about the nation’s need to invest in strengthening nonprofits as beneficiaries of new jobs programs, so that they are in a position to offer AmeriCorps graduates real, above-minimum-wage jobs to AmeriCorps participants upon the completion of their terms.
The nonprofit sector increasingly proves itself to be a solid provider of jobs—to more than 15,000,000 Americans now and counting—if it is given the resources. For all of the bailouts offered to the Goldman Sachs, American International Group (AIG), and General Motors, we think a dollar devoted to creating or preserving full-time jobs with decent salaries, benefits, and pensions in the nonprofit sector is well worth the investment. That would give public service-minded AmeriCorps graduates something to look forward to as a result of their experience—careers in nonprofit organizations.—Rick Cohen