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Program puts Lucas County youths into jobs this summer

300 positions open for families in need

Tina-Skeldon-Wozniak

Lucas County commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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Around 300 impoverished young people from Lucas County can expect to land a job this summer, thanks to a summer youth employment program paid for with federal funds.

The program, approved Tuesday by the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, aims to help young people ages 16 to 21 gain work skills and provide needed income for their families through six-week job placements at area businesses and organizations. Each participant will be paid $8 an hour and work up to 25 hours a week.

Money for the program totals $550,000 and comes from federal funds dedicated to assisting families and children living in poverty. The Lucas County Department of Job and Family Services and the Workforce Development Agency will administer the program and already have selected the youth who are eligible to participate.

"I'm really excited that the business community has a chance to engage with our young people. I think it's good for both the business and the youth," Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said Tuesday. "The youth get lifelong learning opportunities and the businesses get to help and groom young people while filling a necessary spot for the summer months."

Eric Walker, director of the Workforce Development Agency, said he is still looking for organizations willing to offer work placements through the program. In previous years participants have worked at a variety of sites, including private businesses, community organizations, and Metroparks of the Toledo Area.

Although the program has run for several years, funding has dropped dramatically because of the expiration of federal stimulus funds, Mr. Walker said. The agency was able to provide placements to 500 young people last year and 1,000 the year before, he said.

While funding has decreased, young people continue to face above-average obstacles to finding employment, Mr. Walker said. The downturn in the economy pushed many older, more experienced workers into lower-income and entry-level jobs that would have traditionally been filled by young people in the past, he explained.

"Youth unemployment is probably double what the mainstream is," Mr. Walker indicated. "You now have seniors and other [adults] working two or three jobs and taking those entry-level jobs."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for youth in March was 23.6 percent, more than double that of the general population, which stood at 9.2 percent. Information specific to the Toledo area was unavailable.

Bureau economist Paul LaPorte said youth unemployment skyrocketed during the recession and has yet to show any real signs of decline.

"It will be interesting to see what happens this summer," he said.

Youth unemployment typically spikes in the summer months when teenagers and college-age youth are off school and looking for work, Mr. LaPorte added.

"There's not less need. If we had the funds available we would expand the [employment] program," said Lucas County Job and Family Services Director Deb Ortiz-Flores. "There's young people who need the opportunity to learn work skills, to bring income into their homes."

Because Lucas County does not have the money to provide all at-risk youth with employment opportunities, Mr. Walker said his agency plans to hold an expo in downtown Toledo in May that will teach young people entrepreneurial skills. Those eligible to attend the expo are also pre-selected based on their family's income.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.

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