Like many cities in transition, Baltimore confronts a number of economic challenges, including high unemployment. Embedded within the city's unemployment figures is an alarmingly high youth unemployment rate; which at 20% is one of the nation's highest. Further complicating matters, a significant percentage of Baltimore's youth are part of a growing population of young adults with previous involvement in the juvenile detention and foster care systems that have historically resulted in a number of barriers to employment. As Baltimore helps prepare young people to transition into productive members and leaders in the face of dwindling public funds and fiscal constraint, it is critical to begin to implement comprehensive strategies that assist young people in achieving success. The Baltimore Safe and Sound Campaign (the Campaign) developed an idea with the State of Maryland that resulted in the Maryland Opportunity Compact - a policy and financing innovation designed to create more opportunity, demand more responsibility, and deliver more results and public benefit. Simply put, it is a strategy that aims to "spend less money and create better opportunity and results for Baltimore's poorest residents."
The Campaign's Ready By 21 Compact is a new effort that will provide a pathway for young adults aging out of the foster care system (about 21 year-olds) or in the state's custody to earn their high school diplomas or GEDs, receive life skills and career training, and be placed in career ladder jobs that pay good wages and benefits. In collaboration with St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, and Barclay Food Services of St. Ambrose, the Campaign will implement a culinary arts workforce development program for a cohort of these young adults. Designed as a cost-conscious program, this project aims to demonstrate and make the case for increased workforce investment targeting more young people in Baltimore. Using the Campaign as a model, it is the hope of the Campaign and the Surdna Foundation that other states and cities can adapt similar lower-cost strategies that create economic opportunity and produce better results for low-income people in their places, realigning existing public resources and realizing systemic workforce reforms that contribute to the talent development and revitalization of local economies.