Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst before the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development 

Public Testimony


Testimony of Rachel White 

Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action

DC Council Committee on Labor and Workforce Development 

Performance Oversight Hearing for Workforce Investment Council 


February 10, 2022


Good morning Committee Chair Silverman and members of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Rachel White and I am DC Action’s Senior Youth Policy Analyst. At DC Action, we use research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through our Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition we advocate with youth and youth-serving organizations in the District of Columbia for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services that disconnected and youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being. 

One of our priorities is dismantling the pipeline from youth homelessness to chronic adult homelessness, which can only be done through intentional investments into positive  youth development systems throughout the District. By investing early and helping young people find stability, we are cutting off a primary contributor to chronic adult and family homelessness. According to research done by Chapin Hall “Voices of Youth Count,” for every day a young person waits for housing, they are 2% more likely to re-experience homelessness later in life. This is a cumulative statistic. Two days of waiting is equal to 4% more likely to re-experience homelessness as an adult. One way to obstruct the youth to adult homelessness trajectory is by providing youth in the District a pathway to economic freedom in the form of workforce development opportunities and programs that meet their unique needs, access to higher education and trade programs, and access to employment that results in earning a livable wage.  

While we advocate for job opportunities, we must acknowledge that youth experiencing homelessness often face unique challenges as they try to secure adequate employment. Their connections to school are often tenuous.  With limited access to basic needs like showers, hygiene products, and interview attire, it is often difficult to take the steps necessary to secure and keep a job, let alone managing the day-to-day trauma of being homeless. When they do get a job, the positions often pay minimum wage, which is not a living wage for anyone. Many such youth find unreported employment (“under the table” work) and some resort to illegal activities to survive. Given the challenges youth face, it’s important for government agencies and service providers to create targeted programs and interventions that meet the unique needs of this population of youth. 

Prior to the pandemic, maintaining employment for youth experiencing homelessness was already a challenge. Based on Youth Count data, 75% of parenting youth and 69% of non-parenting youth had no form of cash income. Employment got harder for all youth during the pandemic. Thousands more youth received unemployment insurance during the pandemic (from April 2020 through January 2021) than in the same period a year prior  (an average of 100 youth under age 22 and 277 youth ages 22-24 each month from April 2019 through January 2020, vs. 2210 youth under ages 22 and 4055 youth ages 22-24 from April 2020 through January 2021). Youth experiencing homelessness likely faced additional hurdles to employment.

As we center our discussion around creating equitable outcomes, it is also important to note that employment for transgender youth is even harder. In a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, one-fourth of DC residents who are transgender and applied for or held a job in the prior year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not being hired for a job they applied for because of their gender identity or expression during the prior year.  Another quarter reported other forms of mistreatment based on their gender identity or expression during that year, such as being forced to use a restroom that did not match their gender identity, being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their job, or having a boss or coworker share private information about their transgender status with others without their permission. While this treatment is unacceptable for any DC resident, it poses particular challenges for youth already experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

The Workforce Investment Council (WIC) is responsible for the oversight of employment services for District youth funded by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, also known as WIOA. It is important to note that a minimum of 75% of the youth funds allocated to states and local areas, except for the local area expenditures for administration, must be used to provide services to out-of-school youth between the ages of 16-24.  Such services include assisting out-of-school youth overcome one or more barriers to employment, such as employment preparation, postsecondary education opportunities, educational and/or skills training credentials, and helping to secure employment with career and promotional opportunities. It is not clear if the District has met this threshold. Are 75% of youth funds being used to support out of school youth in this particular way?

Not only do we as advocates recognize the barriers to economic freedom for youth experiencing homelessness throughout the District, but the Mayor herself has acknowledged it as well and has articulated goals to mitigate existing barriers in the District’s WIOA state plan. For example, a stated goal in the plan is to ensure “All District residents—including people with disabilities, individuals with multiple barriers to employment and those who are underemployed—will have improved access to jobs, education, training, career information and support services necessary to advance in their career pathway.”

The District has also professed to the federal government, through the state plan, that “the District will focus attention and resources on engaging opportunity youth (those 16 to 24 who are neither in-school nor employed)” by ensuring, “youth will have increased access to a coordinated education and workforce system that provides the services and support needed to prepare them for postsecondary educational success, employment and long-term career advancement.”

Finally, we appreciate the WIC for hosting three community meetings where feedback and recommendations were solicited from community stakeholders as they work to update their WIOA four-year plan to ensure it reflects successes and challenges of the last two years, and proposed changes for their efforts in the remaining years of the plan.

We encourage the Workforce Investment Council to: 

  • Prioritize youth experiencing homelessness in their efforts to increase access to a coordinated education and workforce system. 
  • Engage in strategic outreach for out-of-school youth experiencing homelessness to ensure they are made aware of services available and have opportunities to  inform the state WIOA plan. 
  • Explore ways in which WIOA dollars can be used to create a workforce development program targeted to meet the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness 
February 10, 2022