Advocates: Fewer Jobs for Illinois Teens This Summer

jobs for teens

A bleak outlook for summer employment for Illinois teenagers includes the loss of 18,000 jobs because of state budget cuts and the end of federal stimulus money, youth advocates said Monday.

That's on top of a predicted new low for teen employment across the nation: Only one in four U.S. 16- to 19-year-olds will find work this summer, according to a new report by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston.

The report, commissioned by a Chicago group, noted a steady deterioration in teenage summer employment over the past decade. In 2000, 45 percent of teenagers found summer work. By 2010, that figure had dropped to just over 25 percent, with black and Hispanic teens hit hardest.

Without jobs, teenagers may resort to violence, gangs and drug dealing, a group of Chicago teenagers told lawmakers at a hearing on why they want and need summer work.

"I am 18 years old and I really need a job right now," said Jocelyn Nicpon, a student at Antonia Pantoja High School, an alternative Chicago school for dropouts. "Either I don't meet the criteria or they've not hiring."

She was among dozens of struggling teenagers who spoke to a panel of state legislators and Cook County commissioners at a hearing hosted by the Chicago Urban League.

Summer jobs can help teens find alternatives to crime, said DaMonte Lofton, an 18-year-old high school dropout and GED student at the Chicago Jobs for Youth training program.

"I have 18 friends incarcerated, locked behind bars," Lofton said. Six other friends are dead, he said. "I stand here today to show my support and help my people to survive out there. It's very hard. It was hard for me."

Jack Wuest, executive director of Chicago's Alternative Schools Network, said the numbers go beyond recession level and signify "a Great Depression" for youth. Illinois budget cuts and the loss of federal stimulus money will mean 18,000 fewer summer jobs in the state this year, he said, 8,000 of those lost jobs in Chicago.

After the meeting, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia said he was struck by the urgency to respond to "this desperate cry from young people to get them an opportunity to work."

"I'll talk to the board president to scour our budget to see if there's anything we can do," Garcia said. He called on state lawmakers to do the same. "If more legislators heard these testimonies, I think they'd be hard-pressed to give it a bigger try to find more jobs."

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