Peoria using federal stimulus funds to put more teens to work

John Sharp

It's almost summer, and aside from graduation and vacation plans, area youths have something else to consider: a job.

But a national economic recession and rising unemployment threaten youth employment opportunities as summer approaches.

Never fear, the government is here. Armed with tax money from the massive $797 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the city of Peoria along with Workforce Network are expanding its summer employment programs.

This year, the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program is expected to hire 80 eligible youths, up from 60 last year.

The program was saved this year thanks to $300,000 invested from Workforce Network, part of the stimulus money the group received in March for youth programs.

Bruce Marston, division manager with Workforce Network, said the network has $600,000 for summer youth employment programs. So far, he said, only the mayor's program has been identified as a beneficiary. On Tuesday, the board representing the Workforce Network meets to discuss other programs that will receive the remaining $300,000 in stimulus money.

Marston said Workforce Network is looking to fill 200 job openings, with the mayor's program being the largest of the employers.

"We are processing applications as we get them," Marston said. "We are calling applicants in to do eligibility (screenings)."

To date, he said he's received more than 100 applications for summer work. Applications will be accepted until May 29.

The mayor's program begins work on June 15, with an orientation scheduled for June 12. Work duties focus on litter removal and brush and limb removal from alleys.

Last year, those hired into the program picked up 30 tons of trash and 20 tons of weeds and other debris throughout Peoria. More than 600 tires were picked up from alleys as well, Public Works Director David Barber said during Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The council officially approved $300,000 for the program. Of that, $262,000 will go toward personnel. Youths will be paid $8.50 an hour.

Without the stimulus money, the program would not have happened, Mayor Jim Ardis said.

"There was no money to be found," Ardis said. "The friends at Workforce Network stepped up with considerable funds. As we know with the economy being in the situation it is, the typical jobs the high school and college kids typically take are already filled by people."

Statistics back that up. A study by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. shows that it is possible for the first time since 1954 that fewer than one million people ages 16 to 19 will find summer jobs this year.

John Sharp can be reached at jsharp@pjstar.com.