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Youth support Pathways Back to Work

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

Students testified on behalf of the Alternative Schools Network (ASN) in a youth forum on January 24 at the Chicago Urban League to draw support for the Pathways Back to Work Act, part of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

“I currently hold a job as a school custodian,” said a representative from West Town Academy in a YouTube video from the hearing. “It has given me the necessary tools for life and leadership skills, and basically be accountable for the tasks given to me. I’m the oldest of my siblings, and by earning money in an honest way, I become a role model for my little brother.”

Jobs for teens are hard to come by these days. The national data shows that adults 55 years and older have rising employment, said Jack Wuest, executive director of ASN, via email. It appears the lower skilled positions that once put teens and young adults to work are now being filled by the aging and retired population.

“I believe the summer jobs program is very necessary inside our urban communities,” said ASN college-bound student Joseph Williams in a YouTube video. “One thing our urban communities lack is funding, and a lack of investment.”

The Pathways Back to Work Act would provide $5 billion in training and employment opportunities for low-income and unemployed youths and adults across the nation. $1.5 billion of this fund is aimed at summer and year-round employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

“Jobs from training and employment programs have dried up,” Wuest said. “The 2009 Federal Stimulus Summer Employment money is gone and the state funded employment programs have also ended. This amounts to over 40,000 jobs from the programs combined that are no longer being funded due to federal cuts in funding.”

“A shocking 84 percent of teens in the city of Chicago and 71 percent across the state were jobless in 2009-2010,” according to the CLMS report on Illinois, based on 2010 American Community Survey data. In 2011, Illinois saw the lowest teen employment rate in the 42 years for which such data exists.

Low-income, minority communities are facing the most difficult times. According to a series of four reports commissioned by the ASN and prepared at Northeastern University, unemployment rates among low-income minority teens are several times higher than that of upper-middle-income white teenagers.

“Given the high joblessness rates of African-American and Hispanic teens and young adults, this funding is sorely needed,” said Jesse Ruiz, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education. “Joblessness rates for teens and young adults throughout the city of Chicago are the highest they have been in decades, and are simply unacceptable,” Ruiz said. “We will hinder the development of an entire generation of talent and skills without the meaningful employment opportunities these funds can create.”

At the youth hearing in Chicago, the focus remained on the city’s minority youth. “Once again, the numbers for African American youth are dismal and are a sobering reminder that we must do everything in our power to find jobs for all of our young people, said Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “Now, more than ever, we need to make sure the voices of our youth are heard and that we take actions to address their needs.”

At the county level there is a push for an amusement tax to be levied on the Lollapalooza festival to pay for summer youth employment. This may be a stronger possibility considering there is little to no Republican support for the bill in the House or Senate. Congress is getting little done these days with Republicans and Democrats refusing to budge on budget issues.

The Pathways Back to Work Act appears to be headed the same place the rest of our national budget issues are going – nowhere. Republicans are refusing to cooperate with our program proposals in the House, said Ira Cohen, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Il).

The Chicago Urban League and ASN are urging the public and young people to call and mail letters to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D – Il) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Il), as well as their local congressmen to support bills S.1861, and H.R. 3425.

Written by Andrew Marciniak
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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