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The Summer of Youth Jobs

Out of work teens

Out of work teens

The teenage jobless rate in the U.S. stands at 24% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than twice the national rate of 9.5%. And for black teenagers the rate is over 46%. When this recession started, usually pegged as November 2007, 16% of teens were unemployed.

But this gap does not surprise economists: “So far, the especially high unemployment rates for teens, and the increase in the size of the unemployment rate gap between whites and blacks for both males and females is consistent with previous recessions and periods of high unemployment,” said Ron Laschever, assistant professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Personally, is hard to compare this recession with others, since everyone we know has been hit by this one. And of course it makes sense that the fast food and big box jobs that were ripe for teens just two years ago are now being snapped up buy older, more experienced workers. Workers like my two, adult, college-educated children, who are both spending a good deal of their summer working for just above minimum wage.

But I’m not complaining; in fact, I am delighted they have jobs.

And it has made my recent grant writing for youth employment development programs more personally relevant. I’ve just finished four grants for three local organizations. In their own remarkable ways, each group is finding unique ways to get troubled youth to stay focused on staying in school and getting jobs. This is not an easy task. Dr. Sharon Liddell, Superintendent of Santa Rosa City School District, says: “We can’t teach them if we can’t get them to school.” Studies show that dropping out of high school is not a sudden act, but a gradual process of disengagement; attendance patterns are a clear early sign. Unfortunately, one in four Sonoma County students to not graduate on time ; and the statistics are significantly higher for Latino students, nearly 40% of ninth graders do not graduate four years later.

California statistics show that dropouts are three and one-half times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested, and eight times more likely to go to jail or prison. Dropouts are also much more likely to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents than their peers who graduate. Our community suffers from the dropout epidemic due to the loss of productive workers and the higher costs associated with increased incarceration, health care and social services.

What can our community do?

As individuals, and as a community, we can consider the research of author Annette Lareau, a sociologist who completed extensive field work studying the daily lives of both African-Americans and European-Americans. She coined the term “concerted cultivation.” This concept refers to middle class child rearing practices: a parent’s attempts to foster their child’s talents through organized leisure activities. Lareau’s work shows that children who are reared using the concerted cultivation method are set apart in academic environments and they also learn to have more confidence when confronted with social interactions.

So perhaps as a community we practice “concerted cultivation.” Those of us who have finished our parenting can get involved and support our local groups that work hard to direct youth towards mentors, or role-models, and engage in positive organized leisure activities. There are many youth development fine organizations in the North Bay that are working with you. Contact me and I can refer you or you can get information from www.volunteernow.org.

Great Opportunities

One local group that acts as a matchmaker for organized leisure opportunities is Community Access Ticket Services (CATS). CATS is a non-profit organization serving as a bridge between the social service community and the hundreds of cultural and sports entities in the San Francisco Bay Area. These experiences in sport, arts & sciences represent positive socialization and shared cultural experiences often not available to at-risk youth. They give youth an expanded repertoire of social, educational and work experience and skills. Check them out:

So in retrospect, I wasn’t  the “evil mother” when I forced my children to go to tennis camp that summer. Maybe it is why they are both college-educated and making $8.25 and hour this summer.

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