Reducing Violence and Creating Opportunities through Employment

by Carrie Thomas, Executive Director, Chicago Jobs Council

Unemployment for young black Chicagoans is staggering, damaging, and has solutions. Young adults 20-24 year olds in Chicago are more likely to be out of work and school than their peers in other large US cities, or the nation as a whole. (Graphic: Chicago Tribune)

The data comes from a report recently released by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Great Cities Institute that found low-income black teens in the city are employed at an abysmal rate of 9 percent. It also revealed that the highest concentration of youth unemployment were in low-income and minority neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago. Communities where resources are scarce.

These statistics are bleak but there are solutions.

One being to increase employment opportunities and resources in low-income communities. Research from the University of Chicago found that an 8-week, minimum wage, part-time job reduced violence by 43 percent for 16 months after the work experience had concluded for the youth involved in the program.

Not only do we understand the approaches that work, Chicago has a strong track record for putting them into action. Unfortunately, not to the scale needed for broader impact. During the recession, federal funding created hundreds of jobs in Illinois for unemployed resident creating positive benefits among all age groups; however, funding stopped after only one year. Every year programs like One Summer Chicago connect Chicago youth to employment opportunities during the summer months. But demand is high so only one out of every four candidates is placed.

Full year jobs and private sector opportunities for young people are also in short supply. Our efforts creating jobs for young people have been big enough to demonstrate their effectiveness, but too small to create the broad impact Chicago needs.

To maximize the benefit of these programs, they need both more funding, and strategic local targeting. Chicago Job Council (CJC) member organizations and community leaders across the city have been calling for greater investment for months, holding rallies, testifying at public hearings, and outlining ideas for reaching more young people.

Here are some approaches organizations can take to identify and recruit potential employees who are most at-risk of unemployment:

  • Partnering with community organizations and leaders working in communities experiencing high levels of unemployment and violence
  • Strengthening income eligibility requirements
  • Creating local in-person application opportunities in addition to online recruitment

Strategic investment in job opportunities decreases unemployment and violence, and provides opportunities for disadvantaged youth to thrive. It’s incumbent upon all of us to work together to create a more hopeful future for the next generation.

The Chicago Jobs Council is one of the many local nonprofits that receive funding through Chicago Tribune Charities, a Robert R. McCormick Foundation Fund.


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