America Needs National Service
In an economy where over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid and thousands of companies have implemented hiring freezes, it’s not easy to be a high school or college senior. This spring should be a time of joy as young people celebrate their accomplishments. However, speaking as a college senior, I can testify that many of us feel gut-wrenching fear about how we can financially support ourselves and our families. For our country to return to “normal” post-COVID, we need to help young graduates find their footing in this economy. Expanding national service would be a great place to start.
Through national service programs sponsored by AmeriCorps, Americans are given the opportunity to respond to our nation’s most pressing challenges. AmeriCorps members work full-time as tutors and mentors to at-risk students, support conservation projects, serve in under-staffed nonprofits and public agencies, and much more. AmeriCorps has long had a strong presence in New Hampshire, with over 6200 AmeriCorps members serving 9.4 million hours in the state since 1994. While Americans of all ages can serve with AmeriCorps, these are especially valuable opportunities for young people.
AmeriCorps positions provide entry-level experience in the workforce and come with an education award that can be used for tuition or student loans. Expanding national service would create more opportunities for young graduates to support themselves while giving a much-needed boost to our economy. A Columbia University study found that every dollar invested in national service yields nearly four dollars in community-wide gains.
During the current moment, national service is more important than ever. In addition to addressing the economic challenges faced by young graduates, national service would allow our country to mobilize in fighting COVID-19. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has advocated for creating a program of 300,000 contact tracers to help stop the spread of the disease. Public health experts have urged us to train more people as certified nursing assistants to provide support for overstretched healthcare workers on the frontline. These needs and more could be filled through national service.
Elected officials in both the Democratic and Republican parties have thrown their support behind expanded national service. Chris Coons, a Senator from Delaware, introduced legislation last month that would create 750,000 national service positions over a three-year period, and a bipartisan group of over 50 mayors has endorsed the plan. Coons’ bill also has strong support from New Hampshire leaders; Senator Jeanne Shaheen is one of the bill’s original cosponsors, while Mayor Joyce Craig of Manchester is part of the coalition of mayors who endorsed it. With this level of support, expanded national service has a real chance of being signed into law—especially if lawmakers face public pressure.
This cause is personal for me, because I spent a year working for the educational nonprofit City Year New Hampshire before I started college; pursuing national service remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My time with City Year taught me valuable professional skills, helped me pay for college, and connected me to a network of passionate, community-oriented people who I’ve stayed in touch with to this day. If you believe more young people should be empowered to serve, please call New Hampshire’s senators - Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan - as well as your district’s congressmember, and tell them to incorporate Coons’ legislation into any future COVID relief effort. Americans have the power to heal ourselves and make our society stronger; investing in our own citizens is the first step.
WRITTEN BY UMA RAMESH
DARTMOUTH CLASS OF 2020