WASHINGTON – Bryan Holston couldn’t quite believe he was at the White House on Thursday, among the invited guests as President Obama unveiled a summer jobs initiative aimed at America’s youth.

Yet the topic is one the 27-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island knows well. A former busboy, dishwasher and dietary aide, he empathizes with other young people — particularly black males like himself — trying to find work in today’s tight job market.

“I know a lot of my friends and other people who are un-employed and under-employed,” he said. “It can be overwhelming and feel like it’s you against the world.”

Holston’s situation improved after he received business and technical training from the national non-profit “Year Up,” which aids urban youth. He’s currently employed by CVS Caremark as an IT support staffer, and repairs computers.

Obama administration officials are hoping that its plan, dubbed Summer Jobs +, will reach other young people across the country in need of both a paycheck and opportunity.

The effort, which will involve private sector businesses, non-profits, and government, is designed to create viable employment for low-income and disconnected youth.

President Obama has set a goal of reaching 250,000 employment opportunities by the start of summer 2012, with anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 of the placements being paid jobs and internships.

“America’s young people face record unemployment, and we need to do everything we can to make sure they’ve got the opportunity to earn the skills and a work ethic that come with a job,” said Obama during Thursday’s event. “It’s important for their future, and for America’s.”

As the nation’s economic struggles continue, young Americans are being deeply impacted.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 49 percent of young people aged 16-24 were employed in July (the month when youth employment typically peaks) compared to five years ago when 59.2 percent of youth had jobs.

Minority youth had an especially tough time finding employment this past summer, statistics show. Just 34.6 percent of African-American youth and 42.9 percent of Hispanic youth had a job this past July.

That black youth currently have an unemployment rate nearly twice as high as the national average (among youth), troubled civil rights leaders who attended the event.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said many of these youngsters need summer jobs not only to support themselves, but loved ones.

“Through their work they provide support for family members and family sustainability,” he said.

Among them is Tiana Butler, an 18-year-old Philadelphia resident, who lost her father at age 11 and was raised by a single mother.

Now a student at Penn State and the first in her family to attend college, Butler took part in yesterday’s online medical assistant degree program. She spoke in glowing terms about her summer internship at a medical facility in her hometown.

“It was my first professional experience,” she said of the position, which paid $8 dollars an hour. “I was dressing up for work, going to meetings, making rounds with doctors and having encounters with patients. I gained responsibility.”

According to the White House, 32 organizations and four federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior have already committed to summer youth hiring. They include UPS, Jamba Juice, Bank of America, Gap Inc., CVS Caremark, Starbacks, Viacom, A T& T, and Easter Seals, among others.

The Obama administration also touted plans to launch within 60 days, the Summer Jobs+ Bank—a one-stop search tool for youth to access postings from participating employers online.

The search tool will include technical and promotional support from digital partners like Google, Internships.com, AfterCollege, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Danielle Gray, White House Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, said the announcement builds on previous commitments by the administration to support summer youth hiring.

In 2009 and 2010, the White House says communities nationwide utilized Recovery Act funds to directly support summer work opportunities for more than 367,000 young people.

This past summer, the Labor department reportedly brought together private sector commitments to employ upwards of 80,000 youth.

Yet there’s been partisan criticism of this latest thrust, with Republican leadership suggesting President Obama should be focused on other priorities to help rebuild the economy.

After the event, Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP called on House Speaker John Boehner to “get off the dime” and move on the American Jobs Act, which has stalled in Congress. “They need to show leadership in job creation,” he said.

Meantime, Jealous said he hoped that the nation’s business community would heed the president’s call-to-action by hiring more youth, since jobs are critical to keeping families intact.

“It’s a fatherhood program, it’s a marriage program,” he said. “We’re pushing the message that every company in this country has to do more.”