Youths Rally For Summer Jobs


Young Chicagoans debated with City officials in February and March about the provision of summer jobs.

In February, Chicago youths rallied at City Hall to protest cutbacks in the number of jobs offered through Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office.

They demonstrated again earlier this month at the State of Illinois building to ask the governor and state legislature for funds to provide 16- to 19-year-old African American and Hispanic young people with employment this summer. Quintana Woodridge, a resident of the Ida B. Wells development and a youth organizer for the Youth First Campaign of the Southwest Youth Collaborative, said the young people were rallying for the city to provide the same number of jobs as last year.

“We were telling them, ‘Well, you got it last year. Why can’t you get that same many jobs for the 14 year olds as well as the 15 year olds this year?” Woodridge said.

“The city has a corporate budget of $4 billion and they cannot take out of that $4 billion enough to supply youths with a decent-paying job for the summer?”

Woodridge, a 19-year-old student of the Herrington Institute located in the Fine Arts building on Michigan Avenue, said she joined the Youth First Campaign to advocate for young people because they need someone to speak out on their behalf.

“The youths need someone to speak for them and need to be heard. So this is a way for them to get their opinions out and try to work with the city officials,” Woodridge said.

This summer, 14 year olds – including those with disabilities and from alternative high schools – in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Kids Start Summer Youth 2001 program and the Chicago Public Schools summer jobs program will receive $400 stipends. Youths aged 15 and up will receive minimum-wage based jobs, according to city officials.

Woodridge said she didn’t like the differences in pay that the 14 and 15 year olds would receive as first-time workers. “That’s like cheating the 14 year olds out of a dollar basically,” she said.

“When they’re 14 now, they get a $400 stipend and (when) they turn 15, they get $5 an hour. What’s the difference of age? They are still just now starting a job.”

Woodridge alleged that city officials knew three years ago the federal government was going to cut the funding for summer jobs. Woodridge said city officials never intended on providing summer jobs for youths.

“They had a chance to get in plans to get permanent funding. The thing was, they (the city) were not going to give summer jobs at all. Last year either,” she said.

“But the campaign group I run with talked and worked with the (Mayor’s Office of) Workforce Development in the mayor’s office. They told us they had a little money that they could work with. So last year they got some jobs paying $5.15 and more a hour.”

The City’s Response
Beverly J. Walker, the City of Chicago’s chief of human infrastructure, said at a March 8 press conference at Englewood High School that due to cuts in federal funding, up to 4000 summer jobs for youths offered last year were lost. “The cut in federal funding took off the opportunity to offer three to four thousand jobs we were able to offer last year,” she said.

Walker said the 14-year-old CPS students working this summer would receive a $400 stipend for four hours a day for a total of 6 weeks. This figure would be about $218 less than if they were earning minimum wage.

“The only ones who will receive the stipends are the 14 year olds who are coming into the program and going into their very first paid internship experience&.”

She continued, “However, 14 year olds will get a stipend of $400 for this summer. That’s for six weeks, four hours a day during the summer.

That’s about $218.00 less than they could get if they were earning minimum wage,” Walker said.

She said the decision to offer $400 stipends was a hard one. But by offering stipends, Walker said city officials could provide more jobs to 14-year-old CPS students.

“Here’s the way we made this difficult choice: If we are able to get 14 year olds a stipend, we would serve 2000 more 14 year olds,” she said.

“And when we looked at that, we faced a dilemma. Serve fewer kids or bring in 2000 more kids and they could earn the $400 stipend.”

Walker said that the 14 year olds that work this summer would be given priority for internship jobs next summer. She added that the internship jobs offered to first-time 14 year olds was a concept similar to the adult workforce. “And then next summer, we’re (the City) going to guarantee those young people that they’re going to get a job at a higher level for their successful completion of this year,” Walker said.

“It mirrors what the workforce does. When you go in the workforce, you go into it at an entry level. That entry level prepares you to move up. We’re just introducing that concept into the mayors internship program.”

Walker said that requests for proposal of city grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 would be available for Sports 37 programs for community-based organizations to hire young people in the community to run sports leagues and activities within their communities.

Walker said the applications for young people would be available in schools, YouthNet offices or the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development One Stop Center (Call 3-1-1 for more information).

“We’re not going to stop until we’ve used every dime we have and every resource we have to create as many different opportunities as we can,” Walker said.

CPS Jobs
Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said at the March 8 press conference at Englewood High School that CPS would allocate millions of dollars to hire thousands of young people.

This year, CPS is setting aside $5 million for job initiatives. We anticipate that we will employ at the minimum 5,200 students, he said.

He said CPS also wanted to service more kids and to reward those students who have succeeded in past jobs.

“The point is: Number one, we want to serve more kids. Number two, we want to reward those students who have progressed through those jobs and have delivered in the past,” he said.

Vallas said 1,000 jobs were set aside for the Clean and Green Program to clean up in and around school grounds. There are 200 ROTC jobs for students to provide ushering and monitoring services during school programs and events. 400 jobs are available for non-CPS students as well as CPS students ages 14-19 for the Gallery 37 Summer Program to work with professional artists for creating artwork towards beautification of schools.

300 jobs will be available for the Police and Fire Training Academy for students at schools with police and fire fighters cadet programs. The students will intern during the summer at police and fire stations.

Vallas said the students who qualify for the Corporate Partnership Program would intern at business establishments created or funded by CPS business partners. The students will participate in job placements and internships in the secretarial, retail, health occupation, hospitality and administrative support fields.

He said 300 jobs would be available to students of the 50 high schools who, with their teachers, have started businesses. These businesses include culinary art catering, World Wide Web page designing, cabinet making, painting and construction work.

“We’re going to be paying our student businesses, putting our young people to work and at the same time giving them a vocational technical education and experience,” said Vallas.

The $5 million CPS allocated for the youth summer jobs came by way of selling off land and obsolete equipment and materials, Vallas said.

“Every year, we engage in real-estate transactions. In some cases, we sell land that we have in our possession. We sell old equipment and old materials that we have no more use for,” he said.

“So what we do is generate income and we apply that income towards our summer jobs program.”

A Split Consensus
RJ asked several 14 year olds who will be looking for work this summer how they felt about receiving $400 in one bulk sum after a 6-week job while first-time 15-year-old workers will receive minimum-wage jobs.

There was a split consensus between them. Half said it would be unfair to them that first-time, 15-year-old workers would receive more in pay working the same length of time through the wage-based jobs offered through the CPS and the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (MOWD). The other half said they didn’t care one way or the other.

“That’s not fair,” said Alana R. Bell (who happens to be my 14-year-old daughter and who will turn 15 in June). “We should get the same amount.”

Deanna Joiner, a 14-year-old student of Wendell Phillips High School, expressed little concern.

“I don’t even care as long as I get paid,” she said.

Ebony Borders, another 14-year-old Wendell Phillips High School student, said the different pay scales are unfair. She feels they should get paid the same amount despite the age difference.

“That ain’t even fair. I feel that even though there’s a one-year age difference, we should get paid the same amount,” she said.

Lorna Nickson, a 14-year-old youth who lives in the Chicago Housing Authority’s Robert Taylor Homes development, said she didn’t care what the 15 year olds would receive.

“As long as I get paid, I don’t care what they get,” she said.

The youths contend that the mayor’s summer jobs program is very important to them.

All the youths interviewed in general agreed with Crystal Shelly, a 15-year-old sophomore at Englewood High School, about the provision of summer jobs for any young city resident.

“I believe this program is important to a lot of people and kids. Not only to get them off the streets but, for kids who are economically deprived, to earn money and gain respect,” Shelly said during the March 8 press conference at Englewood High School.

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