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Chicago Faces Potential Loss of 18,000 Summer Jobs for Youth

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On the same day as the release of a bleak report on summer employment for teens, well over 100 students and community leaders gathered at the Chicago Urban League this week to plead for continued funding for youth jobs.

A panel of state and county politicians heard testimony from students on the benefits of summer jobs, including their effectiveness at keeping young people off the streets and away from illegal behavior.

“There is a direct connection between this and violence,” said Tevin Jackson, a student at West Town Academy. “If there’s no jobs, we’re going to find other ways to make money.”

Over the last two years, federal stimulus money helped bankroll many youth jobs in Chicago. Those funds have now dried up.

Jack Wuest, the executive director of the Alternative Schools Network and one of the event’s organizers, said that a total of 18,000 jobs would disappear from the city if money does not come from elsewhere.

The news comes just as researchers at Northeastern University in Boston released a report outlining the steady decline in youth jobs nationwide over the past decade, and predicting a further drop-off this summer.

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“The past four-year trend, and record low projections of teen summer employment rates for 2011, reflect the nation’s continued weakened job market and the lack of political will to support our most precious asset – children,” said Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp in a statement. (Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel recently picked Zopp as a member of the incoming Chicago School Board.)

Wuest is looking to the state, currently beset by its own budget woes, to fill in the funding gap.

“The hope is to raise the issues, that some legislators will listen, and, as dire as the budget is, there will be some push to employ students with state money,” he said.

“Some call it the Great Recession,” Wuest later added. “For youth, you’d have to call it the Great Depression.”

Wuest says that Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed support for youth summer jobs, but that he doesn’t know where the money to pay for them would come from. For their part, the elected officials at the event said they did not want to see funding cuts.

“This gives us the ammunition to go back to our colleagues and say ‘enough’s enough,’” said state Sen. Maria Antonia Berrios, D-Chicago.

Politicians also urged those gathered to begin petitioning the governor and other politicians. Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins said young people needed to be more of a priority in budget decisions, but that such change would only result from civic action on the part of young people themselves.

“Just as young people in this country came together for the Barack Obama campaign, you all need to come together around youth and student rights,” she said.

Vol. 30, Issue 30

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