COALITION ANNOUNCES HENRY ENGLISH SUMMER YOUTH EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM FOR CHICAGO
Activists also demand the state fund 32,000 summer jobs for low-income youth statewide . . .
Edited by Kai EL’ Zabar
A coalition of seven community organizations and Cook County Commissioners Jesus Garcia and Bridget Gainer announced the Henry English Summer Youth Employment Program for Chicago at a news conference in front of the James R. Thompson Center on Thursday. To fund this program and others, the coalition calls for the state to invest $40 million to create 32,000 summer jobs in 2016 for low-income Illinois youth aged 16 to 24.
“There’s a dire need for more jobs for youth,” says Nkrumah English, interim CEO of the Black United Fund of Illinois and son of the late Henry English, the fund’s founder. “Chicago has had more than a thousand shootings this year,” he notes, “and it’s not even summer yet. Let’s prevent tragedy and get our young people off the streets and into jobs.”
Research supports that Summer employment can significantly reduce youth crime. One Summer Chicago, the city’s youth jobs program, reduced violent incidents by 43 percent over a 16-month period, according to a 2014 University of Chicago Crime Lab study.
Summer jobs pay off long-term, research finds, as working teens earn more money when they reach adulthood.
“It’s not just a summer job, because when young people have this kind of experience they get hooked and it inspires them to go back to school, to do better in school, to determine some objectives in their lives,” explained Conrad Worrill, a BUFI board member.
This is an important key in helping to keep some youth off the streets but the state has not passed a budget and has cried broke. So where will the money come from for such a demand?
State legislation that would have appropriated $20 million to create 12,000 summer jobs for youth in 2015 was halted in the ongoing budget stalemate. The absence of state funding for summer jobs comes at a time of alarmingly high unemployment among Illinois’ minority youth. The jobless rate for 16 to 19 year-olds in 2014 was 84 percent for Black youth and 72 percent for Hispanic youth, according to a study released in January by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute.
Joblessness among minority youth persists into early adulthood, especially for young Black men, the report found. Among 20 to 24 year-olds in Illinois, 45 percent of young Black men were out of school and out of work in 2014 compared to 18 percent of young Hispanic men and 11 percent of young white men.
“Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” declared Commissioner Gainer, a one-time community organizer. “Whether it’s county funding, city, calling upon the private sector, or looking at chambers of commerce to step up to say, ‘I’ll hire one young person and I’ll hire two or three.’” “This is not just a problem for the government to solve. This is a problem for all of us to solve.”
Commissioner Garcia said he was a summer youth worker and planned to share his story with state legislators on the importance of a job.
“Summer jobs are critical, jobs for youth are critical to provide opportunities for young people to earn a wage, to engage in constructive activity, to feel a sense of worth and begin practicing good economics in their homes and their neighborhoods,” said the Southwest Side commissioner.
The Henry English Summer Youth Program will target Chicago neighborhoods with the highest rates of youth unemployment, dropout and crime. Expanding youth employment was a priority for Henry English, a prominent community leader who died in March. He launched the Black United Fund in 1985 to raise money for non-profits and programs that serve low-income Chicago neighborhoods. Mr. English served as the fund’s president and CEO for more than 40 years.