New Name, Same Old SYEP

Gray adds "One City" to youth program name

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Tuesday, Mar 1, 2011  |  Updated 10:18 AM EDT
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New Name, Same Old SYEP

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Mayor Vincent Gray has reformed the troubled Summer Youth Employment Program -- by giving it a new name.

Gray’s campaign slogan has been affixed to the name, making it the One City Summer Youth Employment Program, or OCSYEP (Ox-yep?). It’s like if the federal government had “Yes We Can Medicare” or “I Like Ike Social Security.”

The program is one of D.C.’s best-intentioned -- and worst-run. It ran over budget by more than 50 percent last year, and had similarly large overruns in the two previous years. What’s meant to be a program to help the city’s youth has become D.C.’s biggest boondoggle.

There are records of students not getting paid for work they did -- and of some getting paid even though they didn’t work. In 2008, more than 200 students from outside D.C., who are ineligible, snuck into the program -- as did more than 100 people over age 50. The very first day of last year’s program found students without job assignments, supervisors without background checks, and a theft investigation.

This year, the program will be capped at 12,000, down from last year’s 20,000, which is an improvement. But the needs of the District’s government do not increase by 40 percent just because school lets out -- and that’s what adding 12,000 jobs will do. District offices may not have the actual need for these temporary, untrained workers, and so time is expended on trying to figure out where to stick them. Some are allegedly just told to sit quietly and stay out of the way.

The government cannot create jobs, it can only create payroll -- and the Summer Youth Employment Program is basically just a way to pay young people to stay off the streets and stay out of trouble. Indeed, one community activist said last week, “21,000 youth unemployed this summer means trouble” -- essentially arguing that unless the government creates jobs for these young people, they will go out and commit crimes.

That sounds like protection money -- or extortion.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

Update: Gray’s office points out to me that 70 percent of One City Summer Youth Employment Program jobs will be for posts outside the District government -- meaning there will be only about 3,600 make-work government jobs created this summer, not 12,000. The other 8,400 jobs will merely have taxpayers acting as a job placement agent.

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