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TOPIC: Jobless College Students find SEAP

Jobless College Students find SEAP 09 May 2012 20:37 #877

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Fix Young America is supported by members of the nonprofit Young Entrepreneur Council, based in New York. (Officially the new group has a hashtag in front of its name, to reflect its presence on Twitter.) The group assembled more than two-dozen people — including Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, Representative Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, university leaders and entrepreneurs — to offer prescriptions for solving youth unemployment. Another solution was proposed by Zach Sims, whose chapter focuses on teaching young people JavaScript, the computer programming language. “There are a limited number of things you can do with an English degree,” said Mr. Sims, 21, co-founder of Codecademy, a free Web site that teaches programming and coding. “Coding skills are such a clear path to employment, regardless of your background.” Mr. Sims suggests teaching coding nationally via sites like Codecademy and creating partnerships with high schools, colleges and local government. He wants to start a “national programming movement” and recently formed a partnership with the White House for a summer program to teach coding to underprivileged youth.

OTHER Fix Young America solutions have already been road-tested on a state level. Senator Wyden’s idea is to expand the Self-Employment Assistance Program, an obscure government program that allows laid-off people to collect unemployment benefits while they start a business. (Regular unemployment insurance requires that a recipient actively search for work.) Senator Wyden says the program, which is optional and used only by a handful of states, is one way to unstack the deck against young people (SEAP).

Adam Lowry, 32, and Michael Richardson, 26, took advantage of the program in Oregon, one state that offers it. In May 2009, the two were laid off from their jobs as software engineers (one of those supposedly safe careers) at a start-up in Portland. They both applied for unemployment benefits, but they really wanted to start a company. When they found out about the self-employment program, they submitted the business plan for their company, a mobile services provider for app developers. Over six months (the maximum time allowed) they each received around $10,000. “It was a great solution because we could concentrate on building our business instead of finding contract work,” Mr. Lowry said. Today their company, Urban Airship, has 75 employees and has raised millions in venture funding.

“We are growing like a weed,” Mr. Lowry said, “and the money we got from the Self-Employment Assistance Program was critical. It paid our rent, food and bills, which were really the main expenses because we bought the computers and server space on credit.”

Andrew Yang, another member of Fix Young America, says more college graduates should be steered toward fast-growing companies. He is founder of Venture for America, a nonprofit based in New York that places graduates from top-tier schools at start-ups in cities like Las Vegas and Cincinnati.

“Our goal is to create 100,000 jobs by 2025,” he said. “We think job creation is pretty straightforward: you supply early-stage growth companies in lower-cost cities with talent so they can grow and hire more people, and then you train your best and brightest to become innovators.” Putting it another way, Mr. Yang said, “If you send a Brown University graduate to Goldman Sachs, is that person going to create jobs?”

Venture for America says it works only with companies that have demonstrated the ability to create jobs. The companies pay a salary, $32,000 to $38,000 a year, during a two-year Venture for America fellowship. The first class of Venture for America fellows will graduate in 2014. Ten fellows are being hired by the Downtown Project, a $350 million effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. The project is largely financed by Tony Hsieh, C.E.O. of the online shoe company Zappos, which is based in Las Vegas.

Outside the Ivy League bubble, Nick Friedman, 29, wants to do something about the unemployment rate among veterans — 9.2 percent for those returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. He is co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk, a moving and rubbish removal company based in Tampa, Fla. Mr. Friedman, another member of Fix Young America, says one way to help veterans is through franchising. His company hopes to attract more veterans by offering financial incentives
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