Here’s my article on unemployment and violence, which was published in the North Lawndale Community News, as well as the Chicago Crusader.
Flash mobs. Gang Violence. Muggings and robberies. Local media has painted the summer of 2011 in the City of Chicago as being hot with violence, especially from the younger generation. Does the violence stem from youth that need a thrill, or is it due to the lack of jobs and resources that plague the inner city?
Aasia Mohammad, the Community Outreach Coordinator for Street-Level Youth Media, an organization started back in 1995 that educates Chicago’s urban youth in media arts and emerging technologies for use in self-expression, communication, and social change, says that she sees a strong connection between violence and unemployment.
Statistics from the United States Department of Labor rank the Austin and Humboldt Park neighborhoods, where Street-Level Youth Media focuses its programming, with a 52 percent youth unemployment rate – the highest in the nation.
“There’s a lack of direction on what to do and where to go,” Mohammad said. She says that it’s especially hard for youth who drop out of school and have a lack of skills.
Mohammad herself started with the organization back in July, after working with various organizations. She also said that there are many youth who have skills, but are unable to find steady work.
“It’s hard. There’s not much out here for them to take on,” Mohammad continues. She said that many youth that come through Street-Level are on Facebook promoting themselves looking for work.
The issue of youth unemployment is not just affecting young people here in Chicago, but across the world. Figures released in New Zealand show that unemployment among young people had dropped from 27 percent in the last quarter, but is still high at 23.4 percent.
The International Labor Organization, a UN agency focused on promoting access to quality employment, warns that “youth who become disheartened about the future are connected with increased crime rates, drug use and depression.”
Mohammad said that the media puts a negative spin on how bad the current situations are and they do it for revenue.
“There are many organizations that do great work within the community. You don’t see that on the news,” Mohammad said. “But the shooting [on Kimball and Fullerton] is all over the news.”
Could it be that many teens are focused on college prep and summer classes? Possibly. But a new Federal Reserve analysis points to an important factor in youth joblessness: adults.
Referencing data from the analysis, HuffPost Business points out that nationally “the number of adults in teen jobs rose by 5 million from 1995 to 2010. If it weren’t for the crowd-out, the teenage employment-to-population ratio could have been up to 5 percentage points higher in 2010.”
According to a United Nations report recently released, 75 million people aged 15-24 don’t have jobs. The global youth unemployment rate stands at 12.7 percent, 2.6 times the adult rate of unemployment.
This means that many young people are left out in the cold. For Martasia Tolar, currently unemployed and a soon-to-be student at Oakton Community College, this inequity hits close to home.
“I feel like it’s not fair that I don’t have the chance to prove that I have the skills to get the job done,” Tolar said. She said that she’s been looking for work for the past few months, stopped and then continued her search.
“My biggest challenge is transportation,” Tolar said. “I don’t have all the resources I need.”
Tolar has applied at places like Jamba Juice, Jewel-Osco, Sears, Old Navy and Citi Trends. Only one has called her back.
“The work was too far away and the rest send me e-mails saying that I’m not qualified to work for them,” Tolar said.
Tolar’s story is one that many young people like her have. Many don’t have the skill sets to obtain jobs and find themselves having to work even harder to get in the door.
“I have some work experience. Two summer jobs, but that’s it. I think that may have something to do with my hardship,” Tolar said.
Tolar, however, doesn’t think there’s a relation between youth unemployment and violence. “Well, maybe if you had a record,” Tolar said.
Marc Furigay, the Director of Education at Street-Level Youth Media says that unemployment can put a person at a low in life.
“If you don’t have a job and you don’t have money, that can lead to poverty,” Furigay said. “Poverty can lead to desperation and desperation can lead to violence.”
Furigay himself was unemployed at one point and said that it’s challenging to find work, especially in this economy. He also said he doesn’t understand the term “create jobs.”
“I’ve heard that term thrown around a lot. It seems like a very abstract thing,” Furigay said. Furigay said that in order to create sustainable jobs, it needs to start from the bottom up.
He says that there’s one solution to make this issue better: community.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Furigay said.
One local Chicago area program that’s been working with community organizations to provide Chicago youth with jobs is the Mentoring + Jobs component of Governor Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. With funding and program support from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, Mentoring + Jobs has targeted 23 Chicagoland communities and generated over 1,700 jobs for young people. Austin and Humboldt Park are two of the neighborhoods where the program is operating.
For its part, The U.S. government is also attempting to tackle the issue. The President has proposed legislation that could provide up to $5 billion for employment programs that would support hundreds of thousands of jobs, particularly for minorities and disadvantaged younger people.
According to the White House, previous national youth employment programs, like the Pathways Back to Work Fund, provided over 379,000 summer and year-round jobs for youth in 2009 and 2010. However, the current bill has gone through various revisions and has yet to pass either house of Congress.
Tolar hopes that the government will seriously work to create more sustainable opportunities for young people like her.
“I want it to be easy for first time employees or someone who hasn’t worked in a while,” Tolar said.
And she remains optimistic and committed to her future. “Never stop looking, because if you do, you might miss an opportunity to get a job,” Tolar said.
This article is part of a 3 part series on youth violence prevention issues, written by local youth. The author of this article, Charles Jefferson, is currently a sophomore studying journalism at Columbia College. Funding for the series has been provided by the Chicago Community Trust and the Community Media Workshop’s Local Reporting Award.