The Blackwell Job Corps Center has been putting young people into jobs for more than 50 years. But under the Trump administration’s new plan for Blackwell and other job centers like it, it will become a relic of the past.
Located in Forest County, in the northern part of Wisconsin, Blackwell is credited with putting thousands of students into jobs, including more than 800 students in recent years. The center provides vocational training for people aged 16 to 24, in various trades ranging from carpentry to clerical work, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. But under a new restructuring plan proposed by the Trump administration, Blackwell will be shut down.
Blackwell is one of more than two dozen Civilian Conservation Centers, managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the Trump administration has since outlined a plan to move 16 of those centers under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), where the Journal-Sentinel says they are likely to be privatized. The remaining nine job centers will be closed. Blackwell is one of the facilities scheduled for closure as early as September 2019.
In a statement, the DOL said the move was necessary for “modernizing and reforming” the Civilian Conservation Centers so they could “serve a greater number of students at higher performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers.” But Ron Cubit, the director of the Blackwell center, told the Journal-Sentinel that the planned closure was a “total shock” and “really depressing.”
Mark Ferris, who is director of the Forest County Economic Development Partnership, said the news of the closure is a “really significant blow to the town of Blackwell, the surrounding communities and, of course, the county as well.”
Another job center scheduled for closure is in Collbran, Colorado, which is the only one of its kind in the state. Colorado Public Radio reported that the 46 employees who work there to help train young people for jobs in rural areas — many of whom come from low-income communities — are expected to lose their jobs at an undetermined point in the future. They will be invited to re-apply for their jobs by an unnamed contractor following privatization.
Members of Congress are attempting to save Blackwell, Collbran, and other job centers like them. More than 50 members of the House and Senate, including both Democrats and Republicans, co-signed a letter asking the administration to reconsider its restructuring plan.
“The 25 CCCs operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states and aim to train over 4,000 youth and young adults, many of whom are at-risk individuals originating from low-income, rural communities,” the letter read. “These centers not only help support these underserved youth and young adults with invaluable job training, but they also provide essential capacity for the U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its mission and provide economic opportunities in rural areas.”
Evonne Stites, who is the director of the Collbran job center, said the time the job center and its students spent training and volunteering in the community was “invaluable.”
“[T]hey are just as good or better than any student in any place across the nation. They are cared for. They are vocationally trained. They are provided an education and they can also earn their GED,” Stites said. “They are taught their importance in making the world a better place.”
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.