Massachusetts lawmakers are considering deep cuts in funding for a youth summer jobs program even as teen unemployment remains near record levels.
The program, called YouthWorks, helped more than 5,000 young people from low-income households find jobs last year, but the proposed cuts would mean hundreds fewer would get the chance to work, gain experience, and, in many cases, help their families make ends meet, youth advocates said.
The House has proposed cutting the program by nearly half, to $5 million from the $9 million authorized last year. The state Senate, expected to act this week, is considering trimming spending for the program to $8 million.
The final figure — usually a compromise between House and Senate proposals — will be worked out by a joint legislative committee by the end of June.
Youth advocates say the cuts could not come at a worst time. Teen unemployment is 24 percent nationally, more than triple the overall US unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.
“There is this great need,” said Lew Finfer, an organizer at the statewide Youth Jobs Coalition, a nonprofit umbrella group that advocates for youth employment programs. The funding, he added, “goes to children of low-wage earners . . . kids who are not just buying hamburgers and iPods but contributing their wages to their families.”
YouthWorks funds jobs at government, private, and nonprofit employers, paying the teens $8 an hour to work 25 hours a week, often as summer camp counselors, landscapers, or janitors. In recent years, advocates said, the opportunities for teens have diminished greatly as the slow recovery from the last recession has forced many adults, including financially struggling retirees, to take part-time and seasonal jobs once held by teens.
Only one in four students who wants a summer job can find one, advocates said.
Senator Stephen M. Brewer, a Barre Democrat and chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said his committee has not made its final recommendation on the program’s funding level, but noted it has $1.4 million left over from last year’s appropriation.
“These are programs that are important in our cities,” he said. “Job opportunities for young people are still very behind the curve and for inner-city kids it’s even worse.”
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian S. Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, could not be reached Monday.
In a report to be released Tuesday, Commonwealth Corp., the state’s quasi-public workforce development agency, said YouthWorks helped young people in 31 cities and towns get jobs last year. The three communities that received the most money for the program were Boston, which received $2.3 million for the program; the Springfield area, which received more than $1 million; and Cambridge and surrounding communities, which received about $600,000.
For most participants, YouthWorks provided their first work experience, the report said. Youth selected for the program come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Eligible income levels depend on family size: A youth from a family of four earning less than $46,000 a year would qualify for YouthWorks.
The program also funds some jobs year-round for older students and high school dropouts. About 600 young people participated in this component of the program last year.
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