A youth Civilian Conservation Corps will build a trail of justice and hope

Despite recent upticks in hirings, double-digit unemployment and a slumping U.S. economy have many drawing parallels to the Great Depression, complete with calls for a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that provided millions of young men with conservation jobs.

While there are some similarities between now and then, the contrasts are far more glaring. Today, in addition to the prospect of a profound recession, we confront systemic racial injustice, deep societal fault lines and the ongoing risks and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A modernized CCC would replace age-old barriers with bridges to opportunity, unite young people behind a common cause and equalize the playing field for a new and diverse generation of rising leaders.

Close to 4 million college graduates have entered the most daunting job market in decades, where unemployment among 20-24 year-olds stands at nearly 20 percent. For African Americans, overall joblessness in June topped 15 percent and Hispanics were right behind at nearly 15 percent.

Beyond spurring employment, however, we must ensure that new corps members’ assignments are strategic and impactful. The original CCC planted more than 3 billion trees and built trails and shelters in over 800 parks. Much of their work still stands and benefits recreational users today.

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