With federal funding for summer work programs dried, Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Hilda Solis is asking employers to provide summer job opportunities for young people.

Calling summer jobs programs “a critical pipeline for highly qualified, loyal employees, and a chance to shape the workforce of tomorrow,” Solis recently kicked off an initiative called, “Summer Jobs USA: Make the Commitment.”

“The initiative focuses on partnering with business leaders, elected officials and non-profits and challenging them to create and publicize job opportunities for low-income, youth,” writes Solis, in the DOL blog. Through www.dol.gov/summerjobs and more than 3,000 local OneStop Centers, the DOL will work with area businesses to put young people into part-time or summer jobs in 2011.

“As a nation, we understand the dignity and inspiration that comes along with earning your first paycheck,” she said. “We also understand that summer jobs are an important starting point in exploring what drives you – a chance to discover what, and who you want to be.”

Solis said that while the Recovery Act funds used in 2009 and 2010 to support summer work programs are gone, youth unemployment is at record levels. “In fact, the numbers are staggering: Llst July–the month when youth employment usually peaks–the unemployment rate among 6 to 24 year olds was 19.1 percent, the highest July rate on record since 1948. More than 4 million young people who wanted to work could not find jobs, and the problem for youth of color was even more apparent, with unemployment rates of 33.4 percent for African-American, 22.1 percent for Hispanic and 21.6 percent for Asian youth.”

She predicted that in the absence of dedicated funding, young people would find few job opportunities during the summer of 2011.

“I’m asking businesses to make a commitment to young people–for the summer and beyond. I’m also asking them to commit to increase the diversity of those they hire in summer jobs,” she said.

Solis also called upon local leaders, mayors and state workforce organizations to organize summer jobs programs in their area, and pointed to programs in Boston, New York and Chicago as successful examples of the private, public and non-profit sectors working together to create jobs for youths.