Can we create one million new jobs by expanding national service?

City Year is an example of a national service program (Photo Credit: City Year, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Recently, I stumbled across the One Million Jobs petition, launched by Our Time and ServeNext, to tackle high rates of unemployment among young people (which is currently at 46%, the highest since World War II). They are asking the presidential candidates to, “Pledge to create one million new national service positions by expanding programs such as AmeriCorps, VISTA, City Year, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, and others so we can┬áserve and rebuild our country now.” The thinking is that by increase these opportunities, we can provide employment, develop important skills among young people, while improving our communities.

This made me wonder: Can we create one million new jobs by expanding national service?

I asked this question in the Opportunity: What’s Working Group on LinkedIn, a special partnership between the Huffington Post and LinkedIn to spotlight how people across the country are tackling what they call a dual crisis: that 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed and that 3.5 million jobs are currently unfilled due to talent shortage. Here are a few of the responses:

“I am currently serving at a position through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), a faith-based volunteer program similar to AmeriCorps. I have found the experience helpful in defining and uncovering transferable skills, developing a list of accomplishments, and building a network.

I will also note that for 15 years up until June 2011 some BVS placements were eligible for a $5,350 education award AmeriCorps through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Federal budget cuts passed at that time meant CNCS could not pay the award to all affiliated community service programs. These awards often helped pay student loans or continue education once the volunteer completed their term…”

“Creating a national service would create jobs in the short term. Everyone can agree there’s a lot to do. But these would be paid for by the gov’t (read: taxes). If creating a national service would help stimulate the economy and create job IN THE LONG TERM, then it might be worth it. But I don’t see how that would happen. We need a long-term, structural change.”

“When I first saw this discussion the first thing that came to my mind was, where does the funding come from? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought given a clear, detailed plan, this could be a viable option. If this was to be a true “National Service” program, then everyone would need to buy in. That would mean major corporations sponsoring the program, (a program like this would provide them with a higher quality employee candidate pool in the future) as well as local, state and federal government buy in, (they would have the same benefit). Scholarships for outstanding service would also be a possible part of this program…”

So what do you think? An important step to reducing unemployment or do we need something else?

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Comments (8)

  1. Zach Maurin writes:
    August 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    As the Director of ServeNext and an AmeriCorps alum, I’m thrilled you’re talking about the campaign and asking important questions. Two things I want to mention.

    Totally agree — long term jobs and structural change is important. But so are jobs immediately before it’s too late for those in major school debt, can’t find other work, rusting skills, etc., etc. One of the great benefits of national service is that it gives the people serving (generally young people) a ton of experience to make them more attractive is such a competitive job market. Let’s not just focus on long-term when nationals service can be an immediate answer for short-term pain so many are facing.

    Second, corporations and local governments already support AmeriCorps in a big way. Of the nearly $500 million annual budget that supports roughly 80,000 positions, non-federal dollars are matched about 1-to-1. To get AmeriCorps funding, there is a match requirement from the fed. A great leverage!

    Glad you’re blogging about the campaign!

  2. Erica writes:
    August 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I fully support Americorps, VISTA, and other public service programs, but these jobs (deliberately!) pay below poverty level wages. They aren’t an answer to the country’s need for good middle class jobs.

  3. Ryan Steinbach writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 7:30 am

    This feels like a dumb question…

    Aren’t we just pushing the swell in unemployment back by building out national service initiatives? Instead of coming out of school in an awful job market, we finish school, go into nation service, and than come out of national service in an awful job market.

    Would love to hear thoughts on this!

  4. Megan Baker writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 8:10 am

    That’s not a dumb question, Ryan! These programs not only provide short-term jobs (1-2 years) but could also have the potential to lead to something long-term. I know a lot of people (myself included) who have made a career out of national service programs. I served with City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley as a corps member and then did a second year as a senior corps member. Now I work on staff – a path that many alums take.

  5. Grace serencio writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Can I work with this?I need a job.

  6. Allison Jones writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

    @Zach, thanks for sharing additional insight into this initiative and the partnerships involved in making programs like AmeriCorps successful.

    @Ryan and Erica, It seems like many of us are trying to dig into the long-term impact of the expansion of public service programs. As Zach mentions, it can provide a solution to the immediate problems we have now. Additionally, it can open doors to long-term opportunities, as Meghan mentioned. We can continue to dig in a little more as to what this means down the road.

    Happy that this has sparked such an interesting conversation!

  7. T. Allan Comp writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I run two teams of VISTA positions working in rural mining communities across Appalachia and the Mountain West — all of them college graduates determined to make a difference and equally determined to get the experience they need for a good job or a good graudate school. We are a net importer of talent to these distressed communities — and we could be doing a lot more if there were positions available. Our two teams are writing successful grants that more than equal their costs, our local sponsors are raising funds to support the position and we are building strong sustainable partnerships for local improvement efforts. Imagine what one million positions like those on the OSM/VISTA teams could do for this country. Asw a Service to America Medalist, I can imagine no better or more effective way to engage Americans willing to engage in national service.

  8. Chelsea writes:
    August 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    As a City Year alum I can say without a doubt that a year of service had a profound effect on my career trajectory. Not only did it provide me with a unique set of skills and incredible insight into our nation’s education system but it has been a key factor in my ability to attain every job I’ve had since as it provided such important jobs skills and training. It also helped me keep my school loans to a minimum which I believe is an important piece of the puzzle when we talk about the challenges facing the generation graduating from college in the next few years.

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