National Youth Employment Coalition
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NYEC's Rich History

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The content on this page is largely adapted from a history of NYEC prepared in 2000 by Alan Zuckerman, a former executive director and board member of NYEC.

In 1979, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYEC's original name) was organized by OIC of America and the National Child Labor Committee. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) had been amended in 1978 to include the Youth Employment Demonstration Projects Act (YEDPA). The U.S. Department of Labor created a Youth Office in the Manpower Administration. In 1979, federal funding for youth employment programs peaked at approximately $19 billion in 2016 dollars. 

Vice President Walter Mondale chaired a Task Force on Youth Employment that was charged with developing youth employment legislation based on the experience and research funded under YEDPA. The proposed legislation was comprehensive and would have established a system for preparing youth for employment, with a focus on the needs of low-income youth. NYAC was organized and led by national community-based organizations to support the development of the new legislation and to ensure that community-based approaches were an integral part of the delivery system. NYAC adopted these principles at its inception:

  • Everyone who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so.
  • Too many youth are out of the economy with little hope and few skills.
  • Youth employment services must be targeted to those that most need help.
  • Established organizations cannot adequately serve all youth.
  • A national youth policy must establish a long-term commitment to serving youth.

Initial funding for the Coalition was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. This funding enabled the Coalition to expand its membership, engage in dialogue with practitioners and policy makers, and advocate for the needs of unemployed youth. The founding members of the Coalition were predominantly national community based organizations (CBOs) and national youth organizations. The Coalition was housed in the office of the National Child Labor Committee in New York City. 

In its early years, the Coalition's membership broadened to include research organizations, such as MDRC and Public/Private Ventures, and public interest groups, such as the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In addition, a number of New York City youth programs joined the Coalition, including local affiliates of national CBOs and local youth-serving organizations. During this period, NYAC conducted its business and built its network of youth programs through quarterly membership meetings. Most of the members at this time were located along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington. During these meetings, members planned future activities and participated in roundtable discussions of current youth policies and programs. The quarterly meetings brought together practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to share information about youth programs, practices and policies.

In 1981, the newly-elected President and his Secretary of Labor vowed to eliminate CETA. In 1982, the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) replaced CETA, with bipartisan support in Congress. Under JTPA, employment and training programs were more narrowly focused on job placement and meeting the needs of employers. Lower costs and high placement rates were mandated, hence work experience (except for the Summer Youth Employment Program) and long-term services were reduced significantly. Performance contracting came into vogue, leading most programs to focus on individuals who could easily be employed. Services to high-risk youth were exceptions, despite legislative goals to serve those most in need.

The immediate impact was for NYAC to change its name to the National Youth Employment Coalition. The word "advocacy" was determined to be too political and confrontational in the political environment of this period. Nevertheless, the Coalition's focus on advocacy was not diminished. During this period, NYEC received its first grant from the Ford Foundation to determine JTPA's impact on young people and community--based organizations. The conclusion of the study was that JTPA steered less funding to community-based organizations and fewer services were being provided to out-of-school, Black and Hispanic youth.  

In the mid-1980's, NYEC was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to develop local youth employment coalitions. NYEC's local coalition building efforts continued for more than ten years. Active coalitions were established in New York, Boston, Utah, Phoenix, and San Francisco. The effort increased the number of NYEC members, established links to youth programs all over the United States, and enabled NYEC to emerge as a national force.

In the late 1980's, NYEC established a clearinghouse under a grant from the Donner Foundation. Under this project, NYEC gathered and catalogued materials, reports, research and program descriptions that focused on services, policies and research designed to prepare youth for employment. Unfortunately, NYEC was unable to sustain the clearinghouse after the two-year grant ended. 

The early 1990's were a time of crisis for NYEC, triggered by the loss of funding for the clearinghouse. In response NYEC convened its first member retreat in Boston in 1993, where the Executive Committee and membership set priorities and reestablished NYEC's mission and purpose. By this time, NYEC's membership had grown to approximately 50 organizations. The priorities set at the first retreat set the direction for the decade. The development of a framework for identifying best practices eventually grew into the Promising and Effective Practices Network (PEPNet) and the need to develop a new generation of employment and training professionals evolved over time into the New Leaders Academy. NYEC moved from New York to Washington, D.C., later in 1993, where it benefitted from rent-free office space provided by the W.T. Grant Foundation's Commission on Work, Families and Citizenship.

In 1993, U.S. Department of Labor released the national evaluation of JTPA. The study found that out-of-school males who participated in JTPA youth employment programs did not benefit significantly, as measured by employment rates and earnings. This study was used to justify a massive, 80 percent cut to the JTPA year-round youth employment program. In response, NYEC convened its members and prepared a statement with recommendations of ways to improve the services to young people. In its 1994 Report to the Secretary of Labor, NYEC recommended that rather than cut funds in a period of high unemployment, what was needed was the development of standards for the field and improved practices to assure that youth programs had an impact on the lives of young people. NYEC urged the creation of policies to identify those youth employment programs that were making an impact on the lives of youth and use their experience to improve other youth employment programs.

In 1995, NYEC launched PEPNet, largely in response to the perception that "nothing works" and the drastic cut in federal funding for youth employment and training programs. In 1998, NYEC launched the New Leaders Academy to identify and prepare the next generation of leaders of the field. Also in 1998, NYEC and the American Youth Policy Forum jointly purchased a building on Jefferson Place in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood.

NYEC's work and impact continued expanding. NYEC developed a self-assessment tool for education programs and schools serving vulnerable youth; launched a project-based learning opportunity for young people focused on institutional racism; developed and tested a measurement instrument that reflects developmental enhancements that result from youth employment programs; strengthened the linkages between the workforce development and juvenile justice field; served as part of national collaborative designed to equip state and local workforce development systems to better serve youth with disabilities; and provided capacity building opportunities for the leadership of local workforce investment boards. NYEC even embarked on an effort to bring the lessons of PEPNet to developing nations across the globe.

With the growth of PEPNet, the implementation of the New Leaders Academy, the development of a three-year plan, and the advent of the Workforce Investment Act in 1998, NYEC grew steadily from just over 100 members in 1997 to over 250 members representing 41 states at its peak in the early 2000's. In 2002, NYEC was selected as "One of America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth Magazine.

Over the years, NYEC has emerged as a major player in the development of youth workforce development policy and the improvement of youth workforce development and youth development practices. Today, foundations; state, local, and federal agencies; national and international youth organizations; and local and national media outlets regularly consult NYEC. Congressional staff seek out NYEC for its policy and program expertise. NYEC makes numerous presentations at meetings of youth employment, workforce development, and youth development professional associations.

In recent years NYEC was instrumental in the preservation and development of the youth provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), enacted on July 22, 2014. The youth formula within Title I, one of few federal funding streams that is dedicated to connecting disadvantaged youth with employment, remains intact due to extensive advocacy efforts by NYEC and its partners.

In fact, WIOA includes most of NYEC's recommendations. Among the many improvements over the predecessor law, WIA, these include:

  • Streamlining income eligibility by including Free or Reduced Lunch as part of the definition of "low-income individual";
  • Offering the option to maintain existing youth councils in local communities;
  • Expanding the age range for Out-of-School Youth activities to 24;
  • Including priority for Out-of-School Youth, with 75 percent of youth activities funds required to serve this population;
  • Including progress measures to capture incremental gains; and
  • Including more intentional linkages and alignment with secondary, postsecondary education and career pathways.

Since passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014, NYEC has served as a key source of information for the field on WIOA regulations, and for the Department of Labor on the progress of WIOA implementation. Through ongoing Peer Learning Networks and partnerships such as the Campaign for Youth, NYEC continues to be a premier convener of conversations about serving youth and policy related to young people.

Today NYEC remains committed to improving the lives of the more than 6 million young people who are out of school and out of work by improving the effectiveness of the organizations, and the systems, that serve these "opportunity youth." Toward this end, NYEC:

  • Keeps the field up to date on recent innovations in practice;
  • Builds its members' capacity through professional development for youth workers and organizational development for agencies;
  • Analyzes policy developments that affect opportunity youth, including in the areas of workforce development, K-12 and higher education, and human services; and
  • Through its advocacy, promotes models supported by members and the research base.
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