Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 26th, 2014, 3:04pm

Report: Youth Unemployment High In Illinois, Chicago & Black Teens Hit The Hardest

Illinois teens are having a hard time attaining work, with the Prairie State being among the top ten states in the nation with the highest teen jobless rates. In 2012, the youth employment rate in Illinois was only 27 percent, a decrease of 10 percentage points from 2006, according to a recent report by the Chicago-based Alternative Schools Network.

The teen employment rate at the national level was also 27 percent in 2012. That figure is also down from 36 percent in 2006 and reflects the lowest employment rate in the nation's post-World War II history, according to the report, which is part of an ongoing series focused on local and national teen employment trends.

As previously noted, Illinois was one of10 states with the highest teen unemployment rate in 2012. And out of all Illinois teens, those in Chicago fared the worst with an employment rate of just 19 percent.

Across all geographic areas, black teens had the lowest employment rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups, the report showed. In Illinois, only 16 out 100 black teens were employed in 2012, while just 11 out of 100 black teens in Chicago had jobs during that year.

“Every year, thousands of youth apply for jobs and every year there simply are not enough," Alternative Schools Network Executive Director Jack Wuest said in a statement. "The exclusion of teens from the job market is likely to continue and brings with it bleak economic prospects, limited earnings potential and significant taxpayer burden for the magnitude of jobless youth. Job creation for teens and young adults for 2014 has to be an immediate priority.”

Primarily low-wage jobs, which are typically associated with young people, have been created since the end of the Great Recession. But due to the overall shortage of jobs in recent years, more older people with higher levels of education are beating teens out for these low-wage positions.

An analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, for example, found that teens made up just 12 percent of the share of low-wage workers in 2011, down from 26 percent in 1979. And by 2011, workers in the 25 to 64 age group represented 60 percent of low-wage workers. Additionally, the proportion of low-wages workers with a four-year college degree jumped from 5.7 percent in 1979 to 9.9 percent in 2011.

Meanwhile, black male teens ages 16 to 19 in Chicago faced the "most depressed state of employment" in 2012, according to the report. The employment rate among Chicago's black male teens dropped from 10 percent in 2006 to 8 percent in 2012. That means 92 percent of Chicago's black male teens were jobless in 2012.

The employment picture for low-income black teens living in Chicago households earning less than $20,000 annually was even worse. Just 6 percent of those low-income black teens had jobs in 2012, compared with 13 percent of Hispanic and 25 percent of white teens from similar households.

At the state level, teen employment trends among low-income households were also gloomy. The employment rate for low-income black Illinois teens in households making less than $20,000 was 5 percent, compared with 10 percent among Hispanics and 18 percent among whites.

Even as household income increased, employment rates among black teens at both the state level and in Chicago trailed behind their Hispanic and white counterparts. For example, among Chicago households earning $100,000 to $149,000, the employment rate for black teens was just 9 percent in 2012. By comparison, the employment rate was 30 percent for Hispanic and 33 percent for white teens with similar household income.

The report's findings were the focus of a Chicago Urban League hearing about on teen unemployment earlier this year. City and state officials who attended the hearing vowed to help boost the number of summer job opportunities for Illinois' youth. Officials did acknowledge, however, that government action alone cannot solve the teen unemployment crisis. Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of Chicago's Department of Family and Support Services, pointed out that more youth job opportunities need to come from the private sector as well.

Among other findings, the recent report showed that 20 to 24 year-olds were twice as likely as teens to be both jobless and out of school in 2012. The "incidence of disconnection from school and work" was greater in Chicago, however. Almost 23 percent of the city's 20 to 24 year-olds were out of work and out of school compared to less than 10 percent of Chicago's teens. Moreover, more than four out of every 10 black Chicago youth ages 20 to 24 were out of work and out of school, compared with 17 percent of their Hispanic counterparts and just 5 percent of their white, non-Hispanic peers.

Students who do not work while in school face greater chances of dropping out of high school as well as increased incidences of teenaged childbearing and juvenile delinquency and arrests, the report noted.

"The loss of teen employment poses serious policy implications nationally and locally including significant adverse affects on future employability, earnings, family incomes, and marriage rates, as well as serious fiscal burdens on the rest of society associated with lower lifetime earnings, lessened tax contributions and higher correctional costs," the report reads.

It's important to note that minority students are also disproportionately impacted by harsh school discipline policies that could hinder their chances of gaining a high school diploma, which is a necessity for most jobs as well as higher levels of education.

Black students, for example, are more than three times as likely as their white counterparts to be expelled or suspended from school. And about 70 percent of students involved in "school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement" are black and Hispanic. Discipline policies such as expulsions, suspensions and school-based arrests can increase the chances of students dropping out of school or failing to graduate on time.

Also, a criminal history can often be a major barrier to employment. Responding to this concern, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued an administrative order back in October that "bans the box" on applications for state government jobs, requiring state agencies to evaluate an applicant's skills before asking about criminal history.

The report does offer some recommendations to help ease the bleak employment picture for Illinois teens. It urges elected officials to invest more in summer and year-round job opportunities for youth across the state. Additionally, it calls for the revival of the proposed Pathways Back to Work Act, a federal measure that would create a $5 billion fund to help pay for summer and year-round job opportunities for low-income youth, work-based training for both adults and young people and subsidized employment programs for jobless and low-income adults.

“Youth employment is not only a vital and effective violence prevention vehicle, but also a means for encouraging youth to stay in school and provides much-needed financial support to youth and their families while serving as a critical stepping-stone to future employment,” Wuest stressed. “The staggering number of black and low-income teens who were jobless in 2012 provides a sobering reminder that we must do everything in our power to find jobs for all of our young people.”

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