This week Youth Connection Leadership Academy, a campus of Youth Connection Charter School, hosted U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, and Chicago Alderman Patrick O’Connor as these elected officials addressed the findings in the recent report, The High Costs of Out of School and Jobless Youth in Chicago and Cook County, prepared and published by the Great Cities Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The report was commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network, whose Executive Director Jack Wuest also spoke at the event. It distressingly demonstrates the relationship of low educational attainment with underemployment and unemployment among mostly minority youth living in the city and county, which may often condemn them to lives of economic insecurity. “The best anti-poverty, anti-crime, anti-violence program is a job,” according to Senator Durbin.
Recently, Durbin and Congresswoman Kelly introduced two separate pieces of legislation in Congress to expand and increase access to employment opportunities for at-risk youth. These proposed bills , S.984, and H.R. 2209, will provide tax incentives for businesses and employers to hire and retain youth from economically distressed areas and increase federal resources for communities seeking to create and grow employment programs. “Let’s embolden (our youth) with the skills needed for the good paying jobs of today and tomorrow so they can achieve economic security for themselves and their families,” Congresswoman Kelly emphasized.
Some of the findings in the report are alarming. Forty-four percent of 16 – 19-year-olds in Illinois who are out of work have no high school diploma and live in Cook County. Many of these young people are susceptible to gangs and future incarceration. Those who do work earn low wages that translate into lower tax receipts for state, county and federal governments. Illinois residents without a high school diploma on average contribute only about 20% of the governmental taxes of those who have high school diplomas. The economies of all these segments of government suffer horrifically when young people do not finish high school.
Each year Youth Connection Charter School works diligently to improve young peoples’ lives by graduating 1,100 students with a high school diploma and frequently with additional certifications that prepare them to enter the workforce or enroll in higher education. As Commissioner Gainer puts it “nothing builds a future like education and a job.”