Youth summer job programs in Chicago are often called potential deterrents to violence and positive career opportunities for young people.
“It’s access and opportunity,” said Liz Dozier, a former principal at Fenger High School in Roseland and current managing director of Chicago Beyond, an organization that invests in programs supporting city youths.
“Our young people want to work. They want to be engaged in their community,” Dozier said. “But what is the vehicle that will get them there?”
Last week, Barack and Michelle Obama announced a $2 million investment between two Chicago programs that supports summer jobs and apprenticeships for young people.
One of those programs is One Summer Chicago, created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 to provide employment and internship opportunities to city residents ages 14 to 24. Chicago Beyond committed $4 million this year to support One Summer Chicago Plus, which offers 20-hour per week summer jobs specifically to those from high-poverty communities.
One Summer Chicago is accepting applications for summer employment through Monday.
Dozier joined Morning Shift’s Tony Sarabia to talk about the value of these programs. Below are highlights from their conversation.
On the residual impact of summer job programs
Liz Dozier: There’s two things that I want to highlight. One is that we know that in  the University of Chicago Crime Lab performed a rigorous evaluation of the One Summer Chicago Plus program and we know that it found that it reduced violent arrests by 43 percent over a 16-month period.
Two, I’ve seen first hand that young people come back to school with a renewed sense of self, and I would argue that’s true whether they are coming back to school or they’ve graduated and are now on to some other post-secondary option. They have a better sense of themselves. They’ve learned not only social skills but they’ve learned how to work in a team, what it means to show up on time everyday, some skills and things they hadn’t had in the past.
On the types of jobs offered
Dozier: It could be anything from working at a local small business — so it could be working at a local real estate firm — or some other non-profit in their neighborhood.
On the challenges that exist for children in high-poverty areas
Dozier: I think one of them is just access and opportunity — as kind of a twin pillar if you will. It’s access and opportunity. Our young people want to work. They want to be engaged in their community. But what is the vehicle that will get them there? I think that the beauty of One Summer Chicago Plus [which offers summer jobs specifically to those from high-poverty communities] is that it has this triple bottom-line. It gets the young people engaged in their community and gets dollars in their pocket and keeps them occupied. But it also gets businesses to see our young people in a different way. There is a narrative about young African-American and Latino boys and girls in our city that is negative, so it gets them involved with businesses in a positive way that has residual effects long term. …
I was a principal for many years and I saw first hand what those jobs in the summer did for young people, not just keeping them occupied, but giving them a better sense of themselves. When you think about us as adults, how we define ourselves is often by what we do. And it’s no different with young people. So having a job means something. It’s more than just the dollars.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire segment.