Maryland's Ill-Considered Jobs Program
Maryland’s urban youth desperately need opportunities, and Governor Moore’s new program doesn’t deliver.
With great fanfare and much-sought national publicity, Governor Wes Moore of Maryland has unveiled a “a year of service” program for high school graduates. It amounts to a token program whose beneficiaries are likely to be middle class students entertaining themselves during a gap year. While there is much to be said for the English and European custom of a gap year to mature the adequately privileged, a successor to the aristocracy’s Grand Tour, the program does not even pretend to address Maryland’s, and particularly Baltimore’s, most pressing social problem, its failure to find a place in society, apart from drug gangs, for its male black youth.
Ten years ago, I published an article in a magazine issued by a conservative Baltimore think tank on youth unemployment in Maryland. It was ignored by the Hogan administration, as were the issues it sought to address. In 2012, the state had 21,000 youth aged sixteen to nineteen without high school diplomas who were not in school, two-thirds of whom were unemployed. Some 25 percent of black males in the twenty to twenty-four age group were institutionalized or involved with the criminal justice system. Only 55 percent of twenty-year-old dropouts were working. In the intervening decade, these numbers have not greatly changed.
Governor Moore’s program is limited to high school graduates. The Baltimore City high school graduation rate in 2021-22 was 68.7 percent. The dropout rate was 17.8 percent. To dropout teenagers, mules for the drug trade, Governor Moore offers absolutely nothing.
His program contemplates making 200 slots available in the first year, at a cost of $18 million. He also budgets $9 million for grants to private employers in two fiscal years, requires them to pay enrollees $15 an hour, more than the current minimum wage, plus a $3,000 bonus at the end of a year, for a thirty-hour work week. An additional $3 million is budgeted for “contractual services,” stated to be “outreach, developing an online portal, and evaluating the program each year"—in other words, outdoor relief for unemployed sociologists. The program will escalate to include 500 enrollees in 2024, 1,200 in 2025, and 2,000 in 2026.
By contrast, as I pointed out in 2012, President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps enrolled 250,000 people within four months of President Roosevelt’s inauguration and 500,000 at its peak. Today’s U.S. population is more than triple what it was in 1933. To have comparable impact, a Maryland program would need to enroll more than 12,000 young people at its inception and 25,000 at its peak. Other measures in Maryland were suggested a decade ago to provide incentives for youth employment. For example, Maryland’s unemployment taxes, which range up to 10.5 percent of payroll, are highly regressive, applying only to the first $8,500 in wages even though benefits can approach $22,500 per year. Raising the wage base and reducing rates, or exempting sixteen- to twenty-year-olds from the tax, would encourage greater employment of younger workers.
Additionally, while an increase in the state minimum wage is needed, Governor Moore’s total subsidy of employers is extravagant and unnecessary. And though the Maryland Conservation Corps exists on the statute books, it has not become a reality. The Corps program has the advantage (as did the CCC) of removing youth from gang-ridden environments; the CCC purposefully sent its enrollees to the other end of the country. Maryland, a small state, cannot do this, though it might usefully explore reciprocal programs with the few other states that have conservation corps.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
The governor’s position on other social issues has not been helpful to Baltimore’s underclass. His support of a constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion, and the accompanying hookup culture, eliminates the hope that the Dobbs decision would lead to greater sexual caution and a drop in the number of new black families that are fatherless in Maryland. He has shown no interest in drug testing or even in drug education to reduce the market exploited by Baltimore’s underworld. He has refrained from criticizing the Baltimore consent decree that has demoralized the police and contributed to an additional 150 homicides per year in the city, and deterring migratory businesses from locating there. He has not proposed any change in teacher certification rules or salary practices that might give city schools an adequate STEM teaching force. He has proposed reducing aid to the city’s successful nonpublic schools.
In short, his allegiance to Democratic interest groups—the ACLU, the teachers’ unions, and radical feminists—totally eclipses his promise to “leave no one behind.” It is Baltimore’s minority young men that are being left behind, as usual.