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Report recommends investment in youth employment

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(The Center Square) – A report by the University of Illinois-Chicago Great Cities Institute says that Black teens in Chicago are experiencing much higher jobless rates than other young people in Illinois.

Lead researcher Matt Wilson said Black teens in Chicago have been disconnected from work and school at twice the rate they were in 2021.

“So we have this huge jump where there’s an additional over 16,000 Black 16-to-19-year-olds that are not working and not in school,” Wilson said.

The report indicated that not all communities have recovered from pandemic-related shutdowns at the same rate. The Chicago Public Schools system returned to in-person learning much later than other schools in the area.

“Those individuals … the probability of them seeping through the cracks is going to be very high,” Wilson said.

Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, said the state of Illinois should spend $300 million to address youth joblessness, instead of spending on other projects like transit or sports stadiums.

“It’s a question of priorities, obviously,” Wuest said. “It’s basically a hedge against the kids doing things out in the neighborhoods.”

The Alternative Schools Network commissioned the report by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Great Cities Institute, which found that, across the state, more than 163,000 16-to-24-year-olds are not working or in school.

Wilson said if Illinois spent $300 million on youth employment, the benefits would reduce crime and probably pay out 11-to-1.

“It’s expensive, but it’s a smart investment. It’s an investment that pays for itself in the end,” Wilson said.

Wuest said it’s inexcusable that President Joe Biden has not addressed youth joblessness at the national level.

“It’s important, maybe that he puts $97 billion for Ukraine and Israel. Put $6 billion dollars and get the kids who are in our neighborhoods to work,” Wuest said.