The legacy of Job Corps must be preserved

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Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed our nation’s Job Corps into law and paved the way for generations of young Americans to receive education, training and career opportunities. The program was started as a part of the president’s Great Society plan to help eliminate poverty and racial injustice. And throughout its rich history, from the first 30 students to arrive at Camp Catoctin in Maryland in 1964 to the more than 60,000 young people enrolled this year, Job Corps has developed programs and has a proven track record that changes lives.

Since its inception, Job Corps has trained almost 3 million out-of-work and underserved young people. Its programs specialize in helping young people for whom the conventional education system just has not worked to find pathways to success. Most come from poor backgrounds. Some dropped out of school. They may have been arrested before. However, they all have extraordinary talent and a desire to thrive.

Job Corps programs know how to take advantage of students’ abilities and drive and to help them succeed. Their centers train young people to meet the demands of cutting-edge industries, including healthcare, hospitality, automotive and machine repair, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, transportation, construction and information technology. They forge public-private partnerships with employers, who get a steady stream of skilled entry-level employees in return for providing students with on-the-job training, certifications and routes to career advancement. What’s more, the 126 Job Corps centers spread throughout all 50 states support and strengthen local economies. In fact, the average Job Corps center supports 228 local jobs, and its programs are responsible for approximately 30,000 American jobs at any given time.

In my city of Chicago, where the South Side is more often associated with crime and violence than education and job training, the Paul Simon Job Corps Center is working every day to teach our young people marketable skills and give them a brighter future. Under the leadership of executive director William Coleman II, each year the center enrolls dozens of students and instructs them in a variety of vocations, including computer technology, healthcare, carpentry, office administration and more. In a city where there is a major need for alternative educational options for our students, the Paul Simon Job Corps Center stands as a beacon of hope. It’s helped countless young people from our community change the course of their lives and go on to be productive members of society.

Job Corps is preparing the next generation of American workers, who will be a precious resource for our changing 21st century economy. So, it’s critical that we continue to support their programs and allocate enough funding for them to continue to grow and effectively serve their students. I would have liked to see the president’s recently released budget go a little bit further in its investment in Job Corps. The plan’s proposed $65.4 million in additional funding is not enough to address the program’s critical infrastructure and staffing needs. The initiative needs additional support to continue providing students with their proven programs.

The president’s budget does include some important new investments that will open up opportunities for our country’s young people, like his nearly $6 billion commitment to a new First Job program. However, while we are looking for new ways to give young people access to the training and education they need, we shouldn’t forget to support effective programs we already have in place. Job Corps has been removing obstacles to employment for young people and helping them realize their career ambitions and personal potential for decades. With a success rate like that, we need to do everything we can to ensure Job Corps will be there for generations to come.

Rush has represented Illinois’s 1st Congressional District since 1993. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.