When he campaigned to retain existing and deliver new employment opportunities for commonwealth residents, Senator Scott Brown was apparently making no promises to urban teens. Such was demonstrated on March 9, when the Wrentham Republican voted against the Kerry-Murray Amendment, a stimulus extension that would have secured $1.3 billion (or 500,000 temporary jobs) for at-risk young people nationwide. (The bill was co-sponsored by Brown’s senior colleague, Senator John Kerry.)
Following Brown’s vote, organizers of all ages from across Massachusetts added Brown’s name to a long list of state and city legislators whom they’ve been lobbying for youth-job funding since February. And this past Wednesday, five teens and two older facilitators brought their message directly to the senator’s office overlooking Government Center, claiming that Brown’s (in)decision could lead to a loss of 6875 positions that were available to teens in 2009.
“These young men and women did a remarkable job,” says Lewis Finfer, executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network. (While the small group of teen organizers met with Brown’s aides this past Wednesday, Finfer joined several hundred of their peers, marching from City Hall to the State House with the same message.) He continues: “These young people simply couldn’t understand how the senator could on one hand claim that he wanted to bring more jobs to his home state, and then on the other hand do the exact opposite of what he said.”
Finfer and other activists hope that Brown will change his thinking when a similar bill (dubbed the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010), which has already passed the US House of Representatives, comes before the Senate in the coming weeks. Though the extent of its reach is not yet known, that measure would begin to fill budget gaps that, if not addressed, will have an immediate detrimental impact, especially on urban communities. According to youth advocates, as school calendars expire and teens begin to seek productive ways to spend vacation time, decreases in summer-job funding inevitably lead to increases in neighborhood mischief and even violence.
Brown’s office did not return Phoenix inquiries by press time. But judging by the House vote on the bill that will soon land on the Senate floor, it seems unlikely that Brown will budge. Only five Republicans supported that legislation, which if passed could free up $600 million for youth employment. Of course, should Brown decide to break party lines and vote for this socialist solution, he could deliver a few thousand of those jobs he promised on the stump (yet actually slashed), and restore faith in some young constituents.
“Going in there, we felt like [Brown] was being pretty hypocritical, since his whole campaign was for jobs,” says Agnes Vargas, a senior at Dorchester’s Jeremiah E. Burke High School, who met with Senate aides. “And when we got there, it was frustrating, because we kept asking specific questions with no response.
“That got us kind of mad,” continues Vargas. “We couldn’t believe they gave us someone to talk to who doesn’t have any answers.”