Why Everyone Deserves the Chance to Earn Their First Paycheck

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Why Everyone Deserves the Chance to Earn Their First Paycheck

Summary: 
The Summer Opportunity Project calls upon businesses to provide quality summer and after school jobs that available to all youth.

Hard work. Integrity. Discipline. Honesty. Those were among the fundamental lessons I learned from my first summer job at a men's clothing store in the heart of black Baltimore. Those values ­and the paychecks ­ elped get me through college, on to law school, and all along my improbable journey to becoming a senior member of the staff serving President Barack Obama.

In addition to being the President's Cabinet Secretary, I also am Chairman of his My Brother's Keeper Task Force. In that role, I am tasked with ensuring that we do all we can to make sure boys and young men of color, indeed all our youth, know their success matters to this nation. They need to have clear pathways to achieve their dreams, regardless of where they come from or the circumstances into which they are born.

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President Barack Obama meets with My Brother's Keeper mentees during lunch in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Unfortunately, we know from the very beginning of their lives, that boys and young men of color are more likely than their peers to be born into low-income families, live in concentrated poverty, or attend under-performing schools.

Research also reveals to us that Black and Hispanic teenage boys lag significantly behind their peers in summer employment and year-round jobs. The employment gap broadens as young men get older, making them the highest percentage of the nearly seven million youth, aged 16-24, disconnected from school and work.

As the President has said, "access to a job in the summer and beyond can make all the difference to a young person ­especially those who don't have access to many resources and opportunities." And that's why I'm so excited to champion our "Summer Opportunity Project," working with communities and businesses including LinkedIn to increase access to summer jobs. This project is a key component of our Administration's effort to ensure all kids successfully enter the workforce.

The Summer Opportunity Project builds off recommendations from the MBK Task Force around the importance of increasing the number of quality summer and after school jobs, paid internships and entry-level opportunities available to all youth. And, it mirrors exciting work being done at the local level by some of our MBK Community Challenge cities.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is leading an effort with Seattle Public Schools and "School's Out Washington" to reach more than 15,000 youth with summer jobs, learning, meals, enrichment, and reading opportunities. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a new goal to hire 15,000 young people in 2016 through his Hire L.A.'s Youth Program. And, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts partnered with Microsoft on High Tech Summer Camps that will provide exposure to career fields in technology to as many as 300 students.

Focusing on increasing summer opportunities, including for disconnected youth, is also important because it can offer young people authentic exposures in fields like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) that they might otherwise not have. We know, for example, that today there are half a million available jobs that require skills in STEM and computer science. To instill a passion in our young people, and to connect them to mentoring and support networks that can lead to these terrific, well-paying jobs, we've recently announced the first MBK and Council on Women and Girls "National Week at the Lab."

Last week, more than 50 national laboratories and research facilities invited thousands of students from across the country to spend a day with their talented scientists and engineers, and engage in hands-on STEM activities and experiments. In connection with the MBK STEM plus entrepreneurship program, we'll continue working to create pathways that will lead to meaningful jobs and high wages.

When I'm on the road visiting MBK Communities and I ask young folks what message they would like me to share with the President on their behalf, invariably their "asks" include telling the President that they "need jobs."  These announcements, in connection with the outstanding work being done by Federal, state, and local agencies, the National Summer Learning Association, the private sector, and other key partners will go a long way towards creating these opportunities.

Working together, we will continue to call upon businesses of all sizes to provide opportunities and investments in our kids to make sure that all of our nation's young people have the skills and tools required to explore new frontiers and opportunities, starting with that first summer job.