Companies offer youth jobs for Obama to announce

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama hasn’t reduced youth unemployment, so his officials are now pressuring companies to let him announce a wave of new summer jobs and internships.

In the stalled economy, Hispanic and African-American youth “have suffered extremely … [so] it’s important those youth have encouragement and support,” Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis said in a Dec. 4 press conference.

On Thursday she’ll join Obama at a White House event where he will announce that companies and non-profits have agreed to create 180,000 summer jobs and internships for youths this summer, Solis said.

Solis told The Daily Caller that the positions are new, and are not routine summer jobs previously planned by the companies. Only 70,000 of the “work opportunities” will be paid.

The Summer Jobs Plus Initiative, however, can only partly offset the many job-destroying policies that the administration is pushing, say advocates and researchers.

For example, the J-1 visa program imported 103,000 foreign youths just for summer work in 2011, said Jerry Kammer, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies. Overall, J-1 program imported almost 300,000 youths in 2010 for 16 categories of short-term full-time or part-time jobs, according to a July 2011 report by the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute.

Companies don’t have to pay these youth workers’ Social Security, Medicare or Unemployment insurance taxes, so the government is essentially subsidizing the hiring of more than 100,000 foreign replacements for Americans youths, he told TheDC.

“It is rather astonishing we have this when we have record numbers of employment,” he added.

Solis declined to answer a question by TheDC about the administration’s continuation of the program, but did say there are 900,000 unemployed African-American youth and 800,000 unemployed Latino youth.

Solis, the daughter of Hispanic immigrants, did not say how many Asian or white youths are unemployed.

The White House press event is part of the administration’s “We Won’t Wait” policy of using regulatory authority to portray Congress and Republicans as responsible for the failure of its economic policies.

In recent months, Obama has held several similar media events, where he blames Republicans and touts companies’ donations of services and funding for his priorities.

For example, regulated companies have already agreed to spend $4 billion in energy-saving technology, to hire military veterans and to reduce some prescription drug prices. The White House has also recruited high-tech companies to raise the status of of gay youths in schools via a federal “anti-bullying” campaign.

“We are challenging others employers to join us… normally, I get a positive response,” said Solis, whose agency has the regulatory power to investigate companies’ workplace, hiring and pay practices. The goal is to get a commitment for 250,000 jobs, mostly from companies rather than non-profits, she said.

Hiring youths during summer “is the best investment they can make to build the economy,” said Solis, who has never worked as a company manager. Instead, she has been a Democratic politician in California and in D.C. prior to her appointment to the labor department.

Among the companies that have promised to hire youth workers this summer is Well Fargo, a highly regulated bank.

Among the agencies that has asked companies to join Obama’s program are the Health and Human Services, Interior and Agriculture departments, Solis said.

Youth unemployment is at least 16 percent, but it is much higher in minority communities that have received decades of attention from Democratic policymakers.

For example, federal data shows that only 43 percent of African-American men aged between 18 and 29 have full-time jobs, said Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Immigration has played a critical role in driving up unemployment, especially youth unemployment, Sum told TheDC.

At least 15 million legal and illegal immigrants, mostly young and unskilled, entered the country between 1994 and 2007, he noted.

At least 13.3 million Americans are unemployed and have looked for work in the last four weeks, according to a Dec. 2 estimate released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The federal J-1 visa program directly reduces companies’ incentive to hire Americans, Kammer said.

The program has got a lot of support from the companies and non-profits that are paid roughly $1,100 by each of the incoming workers, but it also gets support from the State Department, which wants to bring in youths from Brazil and China, he said.

The 16 categories of J-1 visas, according to the State Department, include “Summer Work Travel Program” visas. These visas are for university students who want “to work and travel during their summer vacation,” according to the department’s website.

Although “there are some instances where employers legitimately have a difficult time finding [qualified] young Americans,” Kammer said, “the J-1 summer work program has become a… program of cheap labor.”

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