Jobs for America's Unemployed Teenagers

11/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 16 and 19
reached a Depression era level of 25.5 percent in August -- the
highest point since the Labor Department began keeping those records
more than a half century ago. Most of these 1.5 million unemployed
young people live in urban areas where few jobs exist and are unlikely
to be created in the foreseeable future. If, as many economists
predict, the national unemployment rate reaches double-digit levels
and remains high for three or four years, the United States risks
losing a major portion of this new generation to drift, sloth and

Direct government employment is the fastest, surest and least
expensive - if not the only - way to create enough new jobs for them.
The problem is similar to the one that FDR faced in 1933 when half
the nation's young men aged 15 to 25 had only part-time work or none
at all. FDR's response was to quickly initiate a jobs program for
them that ultimately became one of the most popular New Deal programs
- the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC "boys," as they often called themselves, were mostly school
dropouts who never had held a full-time job. In the CCC, they
received room, board, clothing and one dollar a day. Of the $30 per
month, they were required to send $25 home, which kept many families
from starvation during the Great Depression. Later, the CCC boys
wrote scores of books and articles describing how the experience had
changed their lives, giving them a purpose and a way out of
crime-ridden neighborhoods, enabling them to be productive,
responsible men.

During the CCC's 9-years (1933-1942), the federal government created
4,000 work camps and employed a total of more than 3 million young
men. A typical CCC project was work on Skyline Drive, in what was to
become the 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park, which stretches 105
miles through Virginia along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
More than 1,000 workers graded roadways, installed guardrails and
walls, constructed overlooks and landscaped the park with hundreds of
thousands of trees and shrubs and acres of grass. They also built
picnic areas and campgrounds, comfort stations and visitor and
maintenance buildings and installed the signs that guided visitors.

The CCC did similar work in every state, including what became the
states of Alaska and Hawaii. Overall, the CCC's reforestation program
planted more than 3 billion trees -- more than half the reforestation,
public and private, done in all of U.S. history. Its inventory of
other completed projects include,

1. Bridges - 46,854

2. Lodges and museums - 204

3. Historic structures restored - 3,980

4. Drinking Fountains - 1,865

5. Fire lookout towers - 3,116

6. Well and pump houses - 8,065

7. Forest Roads - 2,500 miles

8. Roads and truck trails - 2,500 miles

9. Cabins - 1,477

10. Bathhouses - 165

11. Large dams - 197

12. Water supply lines - 5,000 miles

13. Fences - 27,191 miles

14. Fish-rearing ponds - 4,622

15. Beaches improved - 3,462

16. Fires Fought - 6.5 million days at a loss of 47 lives

Many of today's 1.5 million jobless teenagers, like their
Depression-era predecessors, are also school dropouts, have no job
experience and are already in or headed toward criminal activities or
gang life.

Putting them to work rehabilitating America's federal, state and local
parks and forests is a perfect match-up. These public facilities
have more than one billion visitors annually and, after years of
neglect, many are in terrible shape, creating a huge backlog of
maintenance and conservation projects. The National Park system alone
faces a $7 billion maintenance backlog. State and local parks, which
handle three times the number of visitors as the federal parks, have
even greater requirements.

A modern CCC, employing both men and women, can make our public parks
and national forests sparkle again. More important, with full-time,
paying jobs, exposure to the magnificence of our parks and forestlands
and the realization that they are contributing to the nation, these
young workers will have a chance to figure out what they want to do
with their lives, test their abilities, and develop confidence in
themselves. A modern CCC can do for America now what FDR's program
did 75 years ago.