Our country is facing a crisis unlike anything it has experienced since the Great Depression. The long-term public health consequences of COVID-19 remain uncertain. Education has been disrupted and children face continued learning loss. Millions of Americans, especially women and people of color, have been left behind by the workforce. Communities across the country are dealing with the impacts of climate change in the form of fires, hurricanes, and coastal degradation. And while traditional infrastructure, like bridges and roads, are in desperate need of repairs, the pandemic uncovered the essential nature of broadband for all Americans.
At the same time, a generation of young people is increasingly disconnected from education and employment. Millions graduated from college and found no job prospects. Others who might have gone on to higher learning have faced uncertain futures. The impact on educational opportunities has been disproportionately felt by economically disadvantaged youth and youth of color.
Finally, the events of the last few years, climaxing with the coup attempt at the Capitol, have demonstrated just how polarized we have become as a nation. The Biden-Harris Administration has made tackling these issues their core priorities. These challenges — COVID response and recovery, workforce development, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, racial justice, and healing a divided nation — are complex. They require significant capacity and coordination from local communities up to the federal government.
While each of these challenges requires nuanced policy solutions, there is one tool flexible enough to begin to address each of them head on: national service.
Communities across the nation already utilize national service to meet their pressing needs, offer people a pathway to employment, and forge a common American identity by bringing people from different backgrounds together in shared purpose to solve problems. With additional investment and strategic expansion, it can rise to meet this unprecedented occasion, much like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did during the Great Depression under President Roosevelt.
This paper offers a roadmap for how President Biden can reimagine national service to meet his Administration’s priorities. It highlights opportunities for expanding national service, outlines the gaps, and offers solutions to improve and expand upon the existing national service infrastructure.
It offers six steps that would allow President Biden to make national service a 2 foundational part of his Administration building off the principles and ideals that have shaped his career. Prioritizing national service in the Biden Administration means:
1. Expanding national service positions, including to 250,000 AmeriCorps positions a year, up from 75,000 a year today, and 10,000 Peace Corps positions, and progress toward an ultimate goal of one million;
2. Flooding the nonprofit sector and communities with critical support through a Service Year Fellowship and the creation of on-ramps for new programs;
3. Leading a whole-of-government effort to put Americans into national service to meet our country’s urgent needs, including elevating service in the White House by creating a National Service Advisor and service corps within and between departments and federal agencies;
4. Launching an awareness campaign and an online portal to connect people to military, national, and public service opportunities;
5. Making national service positions accessible to youth of all races, ethnicities, and income levels by increasing stipends and benefits and eliminating barriers for groups working with opportunity youth; and
6. Setting young people up for success by ensuring workforce development is integrated into national service programs.
By spearheading this bold transformation of national service and breaking down barriers to make national service more equitable and inclusive, President Biden will reimagine what it means to serve our country and make national service the cornerstone legacy of his Administration.
Meeting the Moment
President Biden has the opportunity to make a historic call to service that meets the demands of our next generation. And if asked, young people would answer the call. A national poll conducted in January 2021 by Change Research on behalf of Service Year 1 Alliance found that 44% of young people ages 18-28, including 60% of young people of color, would be somewhat or very likely to participate in a paid year of national service — that’s the equivalent of approximately 1.7 million young Americans who would be interested in service if given the opportunity.
Interest from historically underrepresented communities suggests an enormous opportunity to provide young people of color, in particular, the tools to make change in their communities that can also put them on a path to good-paying jobs in sectors that could benefit from increased diversity. (1 “New Poll: As President Biden Calls for National Unity, Majority of Americans Support National Service to Bridge Divides.” Service Year Alliance, January 25, 2021. 3)
Further, these young people indicate that a call to service from President Biden would be more persuasive than hearing from virtually any other messenger, with almost half of young people — and more than half of young people of color — indicating that if President Biden urged them to join a national service program, they would feel even more positively about national service.
Additionally, by significant margins, Americans of all ages and demographics support measures to increase national service opportunities. More than three-quarters of Americans — including 93% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans — support expanding national service opportunities. And because national service is highly cost-effective –- for every $1 spent on national service, the government, corps members, and society see a return of $11 — it is a 2 shrewd investment to make that pays dividends to the nation.
With the right investments and support from the current Administration, national service can tackle many of our nation’s problems and demonstrate to Americans their own ability to make a difference. It is effective, bipartisan, and time-tested, and it is a solution that meets this moment in history. Read More