Here's One Way to Help Solve the Youth Unemployment Crisis

March 20th 2015

ATTN: Staff

With millions of young Americans out of work and underutilized, there is a pragmatic policy solution in the form of AmeriCorps. Seldom discussed by lawmakers, many Americans don't understand exactly what AmeriCorps is, why it matters, and how it affects them. As a result, ATTN: spoke with Zach Maurin, Tim Smith, and Nicole Schmidt who lead ServiceNation to help us understand the program as well as some of the arguments used against it. 

ATTN: What is AmeriCorps and why should people care about it?

AmeriCorps is our nation’s biggest national service program that allows Americans to serve a year -- full-time -- tackling some of nation's toughest problems. In exchange, they receive a modest living stipend (on average about 13,000/year) and a scholarship or education award of about $5,500 to be used towards furthering their education or paying off student loans once their term of service is completed. 

This year, more than 80,000 Americans are serving in AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps members serve in local nonprofits, in the faith community, alongside governments and in the private sector, to help meet pressing community, state, and national needs. The VISTA members at the local food pantry? That's an AmeriCorps member. The grade school mentor in the gray uniform? AmeriCorps. The team deployed for disaster response and recovery - you bet - that's AmeriCorps. 

 For two decades, nearly 1 Million AmeriCorps members have proved that when men and women join AmeriCorps, they get things done for the country. This isn't just a slogan - these members have results. They have served over 1.2 billion hours in the last 20 years. They work to lower dropout rates, serve as first responders following a natural disaster, and support the reintegration efforts of our veterans. We believe that's worth protecting.

ATTN: Do you think national service should be mandatory?

We believe the decision to serve a year through programs like AmeriCorps should be a voluntary choice. Civic engagement starts with choosing to serve. So we believe that a young person who looks at the country, and thinks, "Yes, I'm going to serve - I'm going to make America better" - is someone who will stay engaged for life. 

ATTN: What's the argument against AmeriCorps or expanding national service?

Opponents of AmeriCorps would like to make it just one of many things to cut in an election season. Some say that many of the functions fulfilled by AmeriCorps members should be completed by faith-based or community organizations and that public funding shouldn't be used for public good in this way. They often confuse AmeriCorps members for “volunteers” and wonder why government needs to be involved at all. (note: AmeriCorps members are not volunteers, in fact, they often play the crucial role in coordinating volunteers at these very same faith-based or community organizations -- helping to mobilize over 4 Million hours of volunteer service since 2012 alone.)

ATTN: Why do you disagree with this argument?

Americans will always volunteer --- that's one of the many things that makes America great -- but service is different than volunteerism. In order to truly tackle our nation's toughest problems -- like the dropout crisis, veteran reintegration, or cleanup from natural disasters -- we need Americans to serve a year, full-time. This is an experience that is transformative for communities, students, teachers, and for the Americans who serve a year themselves. If we are to truly make this an opportunity available to all Americans, we need to provide at least a modest living stipend so that this is not just an experience afforded to those that can afford to serve

One thing that can’t be argued is that national service has proven to be a smart investment -- every dollar invested in AmeriCorps or Senior Corps programs brings between 3 and 5 dollars back to the community. We also can’t argue about success success -- a million AmeriCorps members and their billion hours of service have made enormous positive impacts all over the country. And you can’t argue about the demand to serve -- with 5 Americans raising their hands to serve for every position currently available.

As the country's needs change, so too are service opportunities. Public / private partnerships like AmeriCorps are offering opportunities for Americans all over the country. We believe as more American learn about AmeriCorps, their interest will only grow. 

ATTN: How can people join AmeriCorps and help your cause?

People can join AmeriCorps by signing up at AmeriCorps.gov and they can help our cause my identifying themselves as a #NationalServiceVoter when they go to the polls.