National Service for a Just and Equitable Society

by The Huffington Post   •  

Since its founding, our country has experienced continual, and often fundamental, changes in the makeup of our population. Right now is no exception. In the last 10 years, our largest cities have been growing at breakneck speed, while simultaneously becoming more diverse racially, ethnically, and economically.

A record 81 percent of Americans now live in cities, according to the latest U.S. Census. Today’s much-discussed Millennials — young adults 18 to 33 — not only live mostly in urban areas, but also represent the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history, with nearly half being non-white.

At Public Allies, we’ve seen our country’s population change from up close. Since 1992, we’ve partnered with AmeriCorps to train our growing population of diverse young adults through service and community partnerships in urban centers like New York, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

In working at the grassroots level in these and dozens of other communities, we find that opportunity and access to careers and higher education are not equally open to everyone. With alarming regularity, we encounter young people loaded with talent, skills, and ambition who repeatedly find that the doors of opportunity are simply shut to them.

Many of our cities’ young adults — our brothers and sisters — who face such inequity end up joining the statistics of the under-educated, unemployed, and economically disadvantaged.

What we have also found, however, is that national service is an effective and cost-efficient pathway to the very things we value and want more of in our cities: good jobs, quality education, and productive citizens. Our experience and new research show a strong connection between volunteerism and greater employment, civic engagement, educational attainment, and economic well-being for young adults.

A recent survey of Public Allies graduates showed that more than 90 percent of those who were disconnected from work and school when they enrolled in our program were either employed or in college within a year of program completion.

The report, “Opportunity Nation and Measure of America, 2014,” shows the percent of young adults who are unemployed and out of school drops in half through the act of service and volunteering. This holds true especially for African American and Latino youth. Further research shows young adults who volunteer have a 27 percent greater chance of finding employment than non-volunteers, particularly for those with the lowest levels of education.

It is for these reasons that we urge our community leaders to raise their voices to save funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which helps sustain programs like Public Allies and provides service opportunities to more than 80,000 young adults nationwide each year.

Right now, the U.S. House and Senate are considering cuts that could cripple the organization — either eliminating 20,000 AmeriCorps positions and other national service programs, or significantly diminishing the agency’s ability to continue its cost-effective investments in young Americans.

As our cities grow larger and more diverse, we can no longer afford to overlook, dismiss, or ignore the promise and potential of so many who live in them. Justice and economics demand that we create more opportunities for young adults, and national service is a proven strategy.

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