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Chicago Violence Prevention Efforts Through Summer Jobs Program at Risk Due to Lack of Applicants for Open Positions

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Natalie Frank, Ph.D.
Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Chicago’s focus on summer employment for young people as one prong in their violence prevention program may fall flat this year as there aren’t enough applicants for the thousands of available positions.
Chicago summer jobs program enhances youth employability and decreases violent crimeUNESCO/always

During a remote joint committee meeting, Chicago aldermen discussed the fact that many summer jobs normally filled by now are still vacant. There is concern as many of these jobs are through the Chicago Park Service, which could lead to decreased hours or availability of certain activities due to staffing issues. For example, there is a need to fill many lifeguard positions to ensure that summer fun on Lake Michigan remains safe. Normally there is an abundance of applicants for these positions. This year however, this is not the case.

Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that applications were open for One Summer Chicago, the annual summer jobs program aimed at adolescents and young adults age 14 to 24. These jobs last from July 5 to August 13 and include both remote, socially distanced, and in-person jobs, as well as life skills training for 21,000 young people.

Normally, there are at least two to three times as many applicants as there are job openings in One Summer Chicago. Even last year during the pandemic, there were 45k applicants for 20.5k positions. But many jobs for summer 2021 are, so far, going unfilled, according to Roderick Sawyer, Alderman for the 6th ward. "One of the concerns I've been hearing is that we may be experiencing quite a bit of vacancies, because not enough applicants are coming to apply for the summer jobs; or may be a bit uncomfortable leaving, because of the unemployment checks, I am going to be honest with you, that people are receiving nowadays," Sawyer said.

Alonso Williams, Chief Programs Officer at the Chicago Park District, said this assessment was correct especially when it came to the lifeguard situation. This is especially noteworthy as lifeguard is the highest paying position in the jobs program. Williams added that this is a problem even with the increased amount of marketing that has been done this year. He stated:

“One of the things we’ve done as a district is not just let it be posted on our website. We’ve actually spent dollars this year in our marketing budget to advertise in local newspapers to push it out that way. As well as, we work with a lot of community-based organizations to create posters and fliers to send out to them."

Besides the fact that unfilled jobs and lack of staff could lead to problems with service-based organization and public works departments this summer, there is also concern over the effects on the amount of violence in Chicago this summer and in the future. The One Summer Chicago program was originally created with the intention of reducing violence and preparing youth and young adults living in some of the city’s highest-violence neighborhoods for the labor market.

The summer jobs program is an important initiative being used to decrease violence in high crime areas of Chicago. Research has suggested that the summer jobs program can significantly reduce violent crime among participants. In a randomized controlled study using 1634 disadvantaged high school age youth in Chicago, results indicated that assignment to a summer jobs program decreased violence by 43 percent over the next 16 months. This equated to 3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth. So, getting disadvantaged youth to participate in the jobs program is important for the city’s crime rates as well as for the participants futures.

Studies have shown that violent crime disproportionately involves youth, who are twice as likely as adults to be both victims and perpetrators of violence. The problem is most highly concentrated among disadvantaged minority youth. Violent-crime arrest rates for African-American juveniles are five times as high as that of their white counterparts. In an effort to decrease these outcomes for youth in the city, Chicago leaders are redoubling their efforts to encourage young adults to apply for summer jobs this year.

Applications for One Summer Chicago are due June 11 and can be found at this website. Information on additional opportunities provided by community organizations, non-profits and other partners can be viewed here.

Learn more about One Summer Chicago and changes being made for this years program:

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