WASHINGTON, June 16 – As President Barack Obama spotlighted problems with prisons in the United States, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today called youth unemployment “a national disgrace” and urged Senate colleagues to support legislation to hire 1 million young people.
The Senate voted on Sanders’ youth jobs bill on the same day Obama visited a federal penitentiary in Oklahoma. “I applaud President Obama for visiting a federal penitentiary to highlight the fact that, tragically, the United States has more people in jail than any other country on earth and one of the reasons that we have so many people in jail is that we have an obscenely high level of youth unemployment,” Sanders said.
“The time has come for us to begin investing in jobs and education for our kids, not jails and incarceration,” the senator added. “Let’s create productive citizens in America, not more criminals.”
The United States, with 4 percent of the world’s population, has 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Almost half of black males in the U.S. are arrested by the age of 23, according to the journal “Crime & Delinquency.” If current trends continue, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
At the same time, the real unemployment rate for black high school graduates (ages 17-20) was 51.3 percent, according to an Economic Policy Institute report prepared at Sanders’ request. The jobless figure for Hispanics in the same age group was 36.1 percent from April of 2014 to March of 2015. For white youths, the rate was 33.8 percent.
The youth jobs program Sanders proposed was offered as an amendment to an education bill before the Senate, but the 43-55 vote for his proposal fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage. “I am disappointed but not surprised that so many Republican senators opposed this common-sense approach to dealing with an overlooked national crisis,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ amendment – patterned after a youth jobs bill he recently introduced in the Senate and a companion measure in the House by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) – would have provided $5.5 billion for states and local governments to help find jobs for 1 million young people ages 16 to 24. Funding for the program would have been generated by closing a tax code loophole that allows billionaires to pay a lower tax rate than working-class Americans.