As the Washington State Legislature convened in January 1983, the state was in the midst of the most severe economic conditions since the recession of 1969. The base industries of Washington—wood products, fishing, and aerospace—were all experiencing large numbers of layoffs. The state unemployment rate was 12 percent, with youth unemployment in excess of 25 percent and minority unemployment at over 50 percent. At the same time, community organizations and local governments providing services to the unemployed, disadvantaged, and the population at large were experiencing cutbacks in funding. Federal funding for human services and revenue sharing to local governments were also being cut back. Due to the state's tax structure where state revenues are very sensitive to economic downturns, state aid was severely limited. The concept of a young adult work force was pioneered to address the problems of youth unemployment and the increased demand for community services.
The Washington Youth Employment Exchange, initiated in 1983, was designed to address two major problems facing state government: first, the high rates of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment; and second, the declining resource base faced by community service programs and units of local government. The 1982 official labor force unemployment rate of 25 percent in many areas throughout the state also resulted in greater demands for services placed on already financially constrained community groups and local governments. In the time since the program enrolled its first corps-member in September 1983, 740 young adults have served the people of the state of Washington. Their 600,000 hours of community service represents a significant source of support to sponsoring agencies which use the corps members to meet community needs.
The Washington Service Corps (WSC) is targeted to serve unemployed residents of Washington State who are 18-25 years of age. Since the unemployment rate for minority young adults is 2-3 times higher than that of non-minority youth, the WSC has assigned priority to the placement of projects with those organizations who serve minority individuals. The WSC has enrolled the following numbers of individuals in the program since the beginning of the operation: 490 White (66 percent); 73 Black (10 percent); 37 Asian (5 percent); 79 American Indian (11 percent); 61 Hispanic (8 percent), for a total of 740 Corps members.
The principal indicator of program effectiveness is the sponsors' estimate of community benefit. Since July 1, 1985, 90 project sponsors have estimated a community benefit total of $2,037,965.