The man who made JAG possible

by | Apr 23, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

By Ken Smith, President of Jobs for America’s Graduates

With the passing of former Vice President Walter Mondale, we thought it might be of interest to all of you who were not part of Jobs for America’s Graduates as it was formed in 1979–80 to highlight the crucial role that he and the Carter-Mondale Administration played in the decision to create JAG and extend the early success of Jobs for Delaware Graduates to other states.

In fact, Vice President Mondale was the reason we launched JAG, and he and the Carter Administration were the very first investors in JAG.

The Rest of the Story. Jobs for Delaware Graduates had only had one full year of success in early 1980 and was just into its second year, when I received a call from the Director of the Office of Youth Programs at the Department of Labor (whom I had never met or heard of). He had heard from Dr. Andrew Sum (Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University) who carried out the research on the early success of JAG in eight schools in Delaware, serving large numbers of youth of color who were having the most difficult time graduating and securing employment.

The Director then invited me to meet with them at the Department of Labor for a more detailed briefing and discussion about JDG. He asked me in the first half hour whether or not we thought the program might be used in other states.  We had no organization to manage it – only the modest staff carrying out the demonstration of Jobs for Delaware Graduates. I told him that I believed it would be successful in other states, based on the many months of effort that had gone into the research and designing the JAG Model.

We did not hear anything from the Department of Labor, so I began to think they were taking a different course.  At that time, I had two roles – a part-time Education Advisor to Governor Pete du Pont and part-time President of JDG, with a full-time Vice President. Governor du Pont called me to say the Vice President wanted to talk to him about Jobs for Delaware Graduates and asked what I thought it might be about. I reminded Governor du Pont about my meeting at the Department of Labor and the level of interest they showed then as likely interest in learning more.

The call from the Vice President was quite remarkable.  Of course, he was one of the great Democrats, and Governor du Pont was a dedicated Republican, and the two had never met. The Vice President opened the call by saying “Pete, I’m rarely in the business of helping Republican Governors, but we believe you’ve got something very special in Jobs for Delaware Graduates, and we’d like to help take the program to three or four other states that we might work together on selecting.  We’re prepared to invest $2 million.” (Bear in mind that was in early 1980, and $2 million was a good deal of money.)

Governor du Pont looked at me, and I nodded and said that I thought we could put that money to work.  We had already heard from some states interested in the program.

That led to the event in the Rose Garden pictured here when the grant was signed by Governor du Pont, Vice President Mondale, and Ernie Green, then Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training (who incidentally was the first person of color to hold that position at the Department of Labor).

Of course, the rest is history.  We launched the JAG program in four other states, and they achieved the same kind of early success. Now 40 years later, Jobs for America’s Graduates operates in 1,450 locations across 40 states.

In light of the grant, we organized Jobs for America’s Graduates in December of 1980 to replicate the success of Jobs for Delaware Graduates. The first Board meeting was held at the White House complex in spring 1981. It was hosted by then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. It was a remarkable meeting in many ways – for example, Mondale attended the first meeting as a founding Board member, firmly establishing from day one the bipartisanship that has characterized JAG’s national organization for the past 40 years.

The man who made JAG possible. In short, Vice President Mondale was the first investor, and his and the Carter Administration’s support created the launch of Jobs for America’s Graduates, which after operating only one year had only a modest amount of data on its results. He made that major commitment of money and put his reputation and that of the Carter Administration on the line by investing some of their relatively modest resources, believing that the Delaware team – and especially Governor du Pont’s ability to reach other Governors and secure their commitments – would lead to long-term national success. We will forever be grateful to Vice President Mondale for his confidence and belief in the promise of JAG. This belief has led to 1.5 million young people having the opportunity to be part of JAG.  Some years ago, we sent him a report about the success of Jobs for America’s Graduates, so he knew that his vision and belief in the JAG program was especially well placed.