Cities Promote Jobs Programs for Youths as Crime-Beaters
As part of his crime-fighting plan in Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino carries in his suit-jacket pocket a handful of index cards with the printing, "Summer Jobs Program.'' When he meets business owners, he gives them a card and an arm-twisting to give jobs to Boston teenagers this summer.
The Mayor is one of many urban politicians who are promoting summer jobs and recreation programs as crime-beaters this year. Some local leaders have backed their rhetoric with funding; others have made the issue a political crusade.
While these initiatives are mostly small efforts, they signal a revival of summer programs as the traditional big-city way to take a bite out of youth crime.
Before the mid-1980's, summer jobs and recreation programs were a staple of budgets in cities where leaders saw high unemployment and hot weather as a combustible mixture, urban experts say.
But in the 1980's, many cities jettisoned such programs from their recession-wracked budgets.
This year, some city leaders have returned to summer programs to battle high unemployment.
Nationwide, an improved economy has brightened the youth-employment picture. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects July's unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds to drop to 10 percent or 11 percent, its lowest point in four years and down from last July's 13.2 percent.
But only a dramatic increase in jobs could change the grim outlook for inner-city teenagers: Last summer, one out of every five youths ages 16 to 19 was out of work, according to the bureau.
Diversion in Parks and Pools
To combat such high unemployment, Mr. Menino announced this spring that the city would help 10,000 Boston teenagers get jobs, 2,500 more than last year. The Bank of Boston, Foxboro Stadium, and Nynex, a communications firm, are among the businesses that have offered jobs, and thousands of teenagers will work in the city's parks and recreation department.
While the program may not reach Mayor Menino's announced goal, it should reduce crime, said Michael Galvin, the Mayor's acting chief of staff.
"We think that it equates to a much safer summer for the kids and a much safer summer for business owners,'' he said.
In New Orleans, Mayor Marc Morial last month responded to the city's climbing murder rate--up more than a third over last year--by launching a sweeping anti-crime plan.
As part of the plan, he shuffled the city's budget to free $500,000 to operate 31 summer youth camps and 11 swimming pools that were scheduled to close. The additional funds will also pay for increasing to 10,000 from 2,500 the number of youths hired to work for the city's recreation department.
In some cities, officials have tapped federal aid for summer programs. Louisville, Ky., has used a $125,000 grant from the Housing and Urban Development Department to start a youth sports program this summer for more than 1,100 children living in city housing projects.
Selling a 'Summer of Safety'
President Clinton, meanwhile, has targeted the first grants available through his national-service program to anti-crime programs.
About half of the 7,000 participants nationwide will work full time in the 91 "Summer of Safety'' programs and receive $1,000 "awards'' toward college or vocational training.
In most cities, the summer projects will include organizing neighborhood-watch programs, conducting crime "assessments'' in homes and businesses, and escorting senior citizens.
Some city officials are making summer-program funding a priority. In his annual "state of the city'' address last month, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago announced that he would nearly double the federal Community Block Development Grant money spent on children's programs to $18.5 million.
"Children are society's canaries in the coal mines,'' he said, noting the impact of crime, drugs, and unemployment on children, "the first to succumb when the atmosphere is poisoned.''
Some of the funds will go to the Mayor's "1994 Summer of Opportunity'' initiatives, which include hiring 1,000 youths to work with the city's cleanup crews and help renovate baseball diamonds in city parks, and teaching 250 teenagers carpentry and construction skills.
New Wave, Old Programs
In New York City, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is taking a different tack. The Mayor this year cut 3,000 summer jobs for youths from the city's budget and asked the private sector to pick up the slack.
"We are putting on a full-court press,'' said Nelson Smith, a vice president for education and youth employment with the New York City Partnership, a private business coalition that helps youths find jobs. The partnership does not sell its program as a way to cut crime, Mr. Smith said.
"That way, you create the impression that you want employers to hire kids who would otherwise be criminals,'' Mr. Smith said.
Meanwhile, some urban experts said they are skeptical that the new wave of summer programs can live up to its hype. Many old programs will be given a new tough-on-crime face for political purposes, cautioned Susan Wiener, a research associate with the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Still, even the old programs--especially jobs programs--indirectly pay off in the fight against crime, Ms. Wiener said.
"If kids are having a hard time hooking up with the mainstream labor market, there is a good chance that they will turn to alternative means to get their income,'' she said.