In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson approved a network of Job Corps training centers as part of the War on Poverty. Unlike most training programs, they were free, residential programs for young adults. Fifty years later, St. Paul and cities across the nation are marking the milestone anniversary with visits from alumni and dignitaries, who believe the job training model is as effective today as it was when created.
“The unique characteristic of the Jobs Corps is its residential nature,” said Cate Smith Edlund, community liaison for the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center in St. Paul.
“Because the students are with us 24 hours a day, there’s much greater opportunity for reinforcement,” she said. “It’s a stable existence, and that improves their ability to learn.”
The Humphrey Center is among 125 such centers in the country. Eligible students must have incomes below the poverty line, be drug free, not exhibit behavioral disorders and meet other criteria.
They also must be willing to get up each morning at 6 a.m., put on a uniform, attend classes, work or participate in internships — and agree to a 9:30 p.m. weekday curfew.
“Not everyone makes it,” said Edlund. “But 75 percent do.”
On Wednesday, alumni old and new will descend upon the center across from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Also on hand will be business leaders who have supported its work, and longtime backers such as congresswoman Betty McCollum, Minnesota Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, and Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman.
“Fifty years after the creation of the Job Corps, it’s still giving a leg up to young adults in Minnesota and across the country,” said U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who also is attending. “Clearly there’s a long history of success, especially in Minnesota, where Job Corps has a 92 percent placement rate, the best in the country.”
Those rates would be impossible without community support, said Edlund. “It takes a lot of different kinds of people to make Job Corps a success.”