A few weeks ago, in east Utica, approximately 75 youth congregated at a local intersection. They were armed with clubs, knives, and assorted other weapons. Thankfully for all involved, police arrived before a battle commenced. The youth ranged in age, with some below 16. A few of those who were older were taken into custody by the police.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated occurrence. Local law enforcement authorities, as well as those around the country, have noted a substantial up-tick in the numbers of youth involved in street gangs in the last few years. Is there a connection with the lack of jobs available for youth in the local community as well as elsewhere in the country?
The Great Recession that began in 2007 brought the overall unemployment rate to 10 percent. In fact, according to a report in the on-line journal Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity teen employment has declined more than 25 percent since 2006. “For teens from low income families, summer employment provides not only income, but also work experience that can distinguish teens within a competitive urban labor market and signal competence and professionalism to potential full-time employers.”
Entry level employment such as fast food, retail, landscaping, and grocery store work can provide skills that are critical to future employment. Youth learn to show up on time, listen to their boss, consider a customer and the fundamental principle of exchanging time for money. Futhermore, these early work experiences encourage school completion, create connections with other working teens, and help lower risky behaviors. RCIL’s Main Street program works to put at-risk youth on a path toward a job and/or further education. Linking high school students to occupational training with technical schools and/or community colleges has proven successful. Also noted in the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, “Career Academies establish partnerships with local employers to provide work-based learning opportunities to improve student preparation for the workforce as well as college attendance. These programs have been shown to be effective for at-risk youth.”
We should advocate for substantial increases for government funding in support of these initiatives. It should be available to both young women and men who can certainly all benefit. When one looks at the huge recidivism rates for our prison system (over 40 percent), and the cost to society both financially and emotionally from crime, the cost effectiveness of such funding is clearly apparent.
- Dave L.