Two weeks after the death of Fenger High school student Derrion Albert, Mayor Daley announced the creation of an after-school jobs program as a solution to teen violence. However, an examination of the new program shows it’s not addressing the problem.
The Youth Ready Chicago program will provide after-school jobs for 500 Chicago-area teenagers. The year-round program will begin in January 2010, and will be an expansion of Daley’s summer jobs program.
“Studies have shown that children are more likely to engage in at-risk behavior between the hours of 3 to 6 p.m.,” said Carmen Alicea-Reyes, the deputy commissioner of youth services in Chicago. “If we provide them this opportunity, we can deter them from engaging in that type of behavior.”
Indeed, the jobs program will be a tremendous help to the teenagers who participate, said Chester Kulis, a criminal justice and sociology professor at Oakton Community College.
“[Unemployment] is a problem that’s not only in the inner city,” Kulis said. “College kids, kids in the suburbs can’t find work, but at least the kid next door has a roof over his head. If he was in the inner city and didn’t find a job and a gang member says you can make a few bucks selling drugs or as a lookout, what do you think that kid is going to do?”
However, critics say this program will not target teenagers who are most likely to engage in violent behavior. Alicea-Reyes said the teens picked to participate will be those who already applied to the Summer Youth Ready Chicago program but were not chosen. Yet, it’s unlikely that at-risk teenagers applied to this program, according to Emmett Bradbury, the department of criminal justice chairman at Chicago State University.
“The people who are committing crimes won’t run out and get these jobs,” Bradbury said. “Those people aren’t interested in school, why would they be interested in jobs? This program will certainly keep people off the street, keep innocent bystanders off the street, but it won’t do anything for those who perpetrate these crimes.”
Teenagers most likely to engage in violent behavior must be included in the program, Kulis said.
“If we ignore the high-risk kids and write them off, they will not ignore us,” Kulis said. “We need to give these kids a job, a hope for a future.”
Another concern is the lack of money to fund the new program. Mayor Daley is using $1 million from the lease of the city’s parking meters to pay for the program. However, the city will need to secure a much larger amount of funding to keep the program going beyond a year.
In contrast, the city used $17.3 million from federal stimulus money to provide 7,800 teens with jobs this past summer.
“We are going to look for opportunities to maximize these dollars,” Alicea-Reyes said. “We’ll work with our current sister agencies to ensure this program can run for the longest possible time.” She added that teenagers in the area of Fenger High School will also be considered when choosing who to hire.
Although critics say there are flaws in the new program, they say it is a step in the right direction.
“Clearly, it’s not enough, but it’s a choice of do we do something for at least a few hundred kids, or do we simply ignore the problem,” Kulis said.