Labor Dept. Spending $76 Million on ‘Career Fulfillment’ for High School Dropouts

By Susan Jones | May 18, 2011 | 6:31 AM EDT

YouthBuild program funds are distributed directly by the federal government through a competitive process to local community-based organizations that run YouthBuild programs in their neighborhoods.

( - The U.S. Labor Department is spending almost $76 million dollars on 76 "YouthBuild" programs aimed at helping low-income high school dropouts become gainfully employed community leaders.

YouthBuild programs in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands will receive grants ranging from $1.1 million to $218,156.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis made the announcement Tuesday at a YouthBuild center in Chicago.

"Every day in America, 7,000 students drop out of high school. Our nation cannot afford to lose these young people," Solis said in a news release. "YouthBuild provides an important second chance to earn an education while also developing valuable skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow."

The Labor Department describes YouthBuild as an alternative education program that offers individuals ages 16-24 training and practical experience for "in-demand" construction industry careers as well as a chance to earn high school diplomas or GED certificates.

The target group includes young people, all of them poor, who have been in the juvenile justice system, are aging out of foster care, are high school dropouts, and are “otherwise at-risk of failing to reach key educational milestones and opportunities that lead to career fulfillment,” the Labor Department said.

In addition to receiving academic and occupational skills training, participants develop leadership skills and contribute community service by building affordable housing in their neighborhoods.

The YouthBuild Web site notes that participants “participate actively in community affairs, learning the values and the lifelong commitment needed to be effective and ethical community leaders.”

YouthBuild says 100,000 of its students have built 20,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing since 1994.  The Labor Department took over administration of the YouthBuild program in 2006, awarding its first grants in 2007. 

Community- and faith-based nonprofit organizations sponsor most of the YouthBuild programs, although some are sponsored by public agencies.

Primary support for YouthBuild comes from the Labor Department through a dedicated federal budget line-item.