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Patrick puts funding behind leaders of tomorrow

Gov. Deval Patrick thanks Monique Bank (far right in grey shirt) for her introduction at the governor's appearance at the Dunbar Community Center in Springfield on Thursday. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Gov. Deval Patrick told a group of young people at the Dunbar Community Center on Thursday that his first job was at age 11 when he sold sno-cones. Patrick having a paper route, being a bus boy and operating a metal lathe followed that job.

The governor's point, though, wasn't to share with the audience his working class background, but to explain why the work experience is so important and that his administration has increased funding for YouthWorks summer job program by more than $140,000.

Springfield will receive just over $500,000. Adding in the allocations to Holyoke and Chicopee, the amount for the three cities is $767,322.

The Regional Employment Board (REB) will once again administer a summer jobs campaign in Hampden County that will employ as many as 1,000 low-income youth in the three cities.

According to information from the Patrick Administration, the statewide percentage of teens in the labor force has declined from 57 percent in 1999 to 48 percent in 2006 and the employment rate of teens has declined form 53 percent in 1999 to 39 percent in 2006. The percentages are larger in urban areas and among low-income families.

The YouthWorks program helps employers pay for the wages of these summer employees. The REB will be making a formal announcement about this year's program at news conference on May 22.

Patrick has asked for a $2.5 million increase for more youth job funding in his FY09 budget.

Patrick told the young audience that having a job meant for him living up to the expectations of the adults with whom he worked.

"I, as your governor, have high expectations of you," he said. "The only one limitation on your horizon is you."

Patrick said he didn't want to deliver a speech but to have a conversation instead and the students at Dunbar had prepared questions for him. Dunbar Executive Director Cherylyn Hatchett told the audience the governor was going to try to "pass the Dunbar Community Center MCAS."

Although there were several questions about what is was like to be governor "No two days are alike" and who he was supporting for president Sen. Barack Obama many of the questions were about work opportunities for teens.

One teen asked that if a young person's job was helping to support his or her family, shouldn't that young employee be compensated at a rate higher than minimum wage?

Patrick said he understood the question and explained much of the issue of a pay scale rests in the demands of the market place rather than the value of the work. He mentioned teaching as an example of this situation. He added that work in itself has value whether it is paid or not because of the discipline it brings to a person.

One teen asked if the work rules could be lowered so employers could hire 12-year-olds. Patrick explained those laws are in effect to prevent the exploitation of children that was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Patrick replied to a question about funding for more hours for community centers that the Shannon Grant money the city receives to combat gang violence could be used for that purpose.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said that summer jobs for youths are part of a comprehensive attack on crime and other social problems.

"This administration, Gov. Patrick's, gets it," Sarno asserted.