Reauthorize WIOA for youth employment

Prevention, Early Intervention, & Youth
Emergency & Crisis Response
social determinants of health
Economic Security
Black/African American
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI)
American Indian/Alaskan Native
Coverage & Standards
No items found.
Federal department
house committees
House Education and Workforce Committee
senate committees
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee


Congress should reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and expand funding for youth employment programs that serve low-income and disadvantaged youth. Funding should be allocated to provide dedicated mental health resources to programs to help identify and meet youth’s mental health needs.


Lack of employment opportunities for youth in low-income and other marginalized communities contributes to negative outcomes such as lower adult earnings and increased risk of criminal legal system involvement and early mortality. Among teenagers 16 to 19 years old, the unemployment rates were highest for Black youth, Hispanic/Latino youth, and Asian youth.[1] Similarly, American Indian/Alaska Native youth were less likely to be employed than other youth.[2]

Youth employment programs provide employment for youth who work at selected employers during the summer, and often include job readiness training and other supports. These programs have been shown to reduce youth violence by providing opportunities to learn interpersonal skills from positive role models and mentors and to improve confidence and self-control through work experience. Researchers found that summer employment offered to youth through the One Summer Plus (OSP) in Chicago resulted in 43 percent fewer youth violent crime arrests.[3] Another study of a youth employment program in New York City found increased earnings for youth and decreased incarceration and mortality.[4]

While youth employment programs drive positive outcomes, they unfortunately often lack the resources to address the oftentimes significant mental health needs of the youth they serve. A recent survey of youth programs found that 90 percent or more reported observing anxiety or depression among youth, and 60 percent of programs believed more than half of their youth needed mental health services. Yet 64 percent did not have a process for screening or monitoring youth’s mental health needs, and 89 percent were unable to provide quality mental health training to staff.[5] Youth employment programs face challenges related to limited and unstable funding, insufficient capacity and quality (including related to helping address youth’s mental health needs), and lack of coordination and evaluation.

Congress has contributed to these challenges by allowing WIOA, the primary federal funding source for youth employment, to expire in fiscal year 2020. As a result, WIOA programs have relied on short-term extensions through annual appropriations bills. Congress should reauthorize WIOA and increase investment levels, particularly given the unprecedented mental health challenges youth are facing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.[6] Furthermore, Congress should dedicate funding to increase the availability of mental health services and supports among youth employment programs.[5]


1. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2021. Last Updated January 2023.

2. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. labor force. Last Updated November 2019.

3. Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Summer Jobs Reduce Violence Among Youth Facing Barriers to Opportunity in the United States. Last Accessed July 31, 2023.

4. Kessler, Judd B., Sarah Tahamont, Alexander M. Gelber, and Adam Isen. January 2021. “The Effects of Youth Employment on Crime: Evidence from New York City Lotteries.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 28373. (n.d.)

5. Bennett, Rashaun, Julie Frohlich, Mary Ann (Mimi) Haley, Karissa Kresge, and Thomas Showalter. August 2022. Identifying Gaps in Youth Employment Programs’ Capacity to Address Mental Health Need- National Survey. National Youth Employment Coalition. Last Updated August 2022.

6. Ross, Kyle. Congress Must Bolster Youth Employment Programs To Secure America’s Economic Future. Center for American Progress. Last Updated April 24, 2023.