Stagnant employment picture for Illinois teens

Chicago Urban League will prod public officials to act on the numbers

January 24, 2013

Teen unemployment in Illinois is among the highest in the United States, and for low-income minorities the rates are even higher.

The Chicago Urban League is set to host a hearing Thursday on youth joblessness with state and local leaders, the idea being to pressure elected officials to implement job programs. Organizers suggest new data backup that request. 

Researchers at Northeastern University completed the report entitled “The Persistent Depression in the Teen Labor Market in Illinois in Recent Years.” It notes that teens' lack work of experience adversely affects their future employability and wages. The conclusions mirror previous studies that suggest job experience can help deter teens from involvement in the criminal justice system.

The report’s authors found only 8.7 percent of black teens in Chicago were employed in 2010-2011. The rate for Asians, though, was 15.5 percent. Twenty percent of the city’s Hispanic teens were employed, and the rate for whites stood at 21 percent.

Meanwhile, across Illinois, the teen employment rate fell from just under 50 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2012 — the lowest rate in the 42 years for which such data exist. If Illinois teens had been able to maintain their 1999-2000 employment rates during the past year, there would have been another 151,000 teens at work in Illinois in 2011-2012, the report said.

“Low income, minority high school students are the least likely to be employed,” the report said. “Only 7% of such high school students in the city of Chicago in 2010-2011 were employed. Early in-school work experience has favorable effects on improving the transition from high school to the labor market upon graduation. National research over the past decade has revealed that the absence of in-school work among low to middle income high school students is associated with a higher frequency of dropping out of high school among males, a higher incidence of teenaged childbearing among women, and a greater incidence of juvenile delinquency and arrests.”

The Chicago Urban League, partnering with the Illinois Council on Re-Enrolling Students Who Dropped Out of School and the Alternative Schools Network, says this data provides heft when making a case for teen jobs.

Andrea Zopp, head of the CUL, said she wants policymakers to keep teen unemployment top of mind and to create initiatives by summertime.

“The reaction was not surprised, disappointment that the numbers remain bad,” Zopp said. She added there’s a correlation between teen joblessness and teen violence.

“Absolutely tied to kids not having anything to do with time. Not seeing  a picture for themselves, not being able to connect with the broader society in appropriate ways,” she said. 

Youth advocates recommend the state and city of Chicago find money to create summer and year round job programs for teens. Specifically, they want passage of the Pathways Back to Work Act, a federal initiative that provides states money to employ low-income youth.