$5M grant to help Detroiters who have job difficulty

David Shepardson and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday it is awarding $5 million to help the city of Detroit fund a project to help reduce a stubbornly high youth unemployment rate and create more than 2,000 job opportunities.

The Obama administration said it is awarding the dollars to Michigan to fund a demonstration project for youth in Detroit.

“We owe an enormous debt to the Obama administration,” Mayor Mike Duggan said during a news conference detailing the jobs plan at the Matrix Center on the city’s east side. “If Detroit is going to have a recovery, we can’t afford to waste any of this talent.”

Administered by the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., “the grant will create work opportunities for disadvantaged youth and young people returning from jails and prison. Major local employers — Ford Motor Co., Penske Automotive and DTE Energy Co. and others — will create job opportunities for more than 2,000 youth and formerly incarcerated individuals,” the Labor Department said.

In recent years, Detroit’s youth unemployment rate has been listed at 30 percent or higher. Detroit is the nation’s poorest largest big city in America.

“A principle that has guided me throughout my life is that we all succeed when we all succeed. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges facing our young people today, and we must do all we can to ensure that opportunity is available to all,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “This grant will offer young people in Detroit who are at-risk of falling off the economic ladder, a chance to chart a new course, gain job skills and find stable, meaningful careers.”

The White House Detroit Working Group — set up in the wake of the city’s record setting Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in 2013 — supports the project with technical assistance on the demonstration project.

“The Obama Administration believes strongly in Mayor Duggan’s efforts to help Detroit’s youth find good jobs,” said Working Group Executive Director Cliff Kellogg.

The grant will serve youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 29 who are disconnected from the labor force — meaning that they are both not enrolled in school and not currently working.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent report found that Detroit's unemployment rate for teens age 16-19 was 38.5 percent in 2013.

The demonstration project is expected to roll out this fall and will test strategies for preparing youth to succeed at work — including career education and preparation, summer programs, and “comprehensive and integrated career pathway models — all of which align education and training programs to enable participants to earn industry-recognized credentials and find good jobs. In addition, participants will receive meaningful work experiences to ensure they are ready to work and have the skills needed to be successful in the workplace.”

The award to Detroit is one of seven similar grants, totaling $22 million, announced to cities with high poverty and unemployment rates.

The Rev. DeeDee Coleman, executive director of the Wings of Faith, a center for returning citizens and their families, said Tuesday that the grant represents trust.

“It’s about the Department of Labor seeing trust in the city of Detroit,” Coleman said, adding the jobs program will serve the disabled and others who are difficult to employ.

Coleman says she’s worked in the prisoner reentry field for 35 years and that the individuals seeking to reintegrate need more support.

“What we didn’t have, that we now have is a place to go where individuals can be treated with respect and dignity,” she said. “That’s a big part of working with this particular population.”

Returning citizen Damone Mattison spoke Tuesday about how job training has put him on a positive path.

The 41-year-old served a seven-year term for a criminal sexual conduct offense. Since being released last December, he’s been able to get skills training and is now employed as a CNC operator at Sakthi Automotive Group.

“Having a job has really given me an opportunity to rebuild my life and be a positive member of the community,” he said. “It’s a real positive for my life to be able to be employed and contribute to my community and the city of Detroit.”