GRAND BOULEVARD — Chicago teens are turning to city and state lawmakers for help after a new report showed that nearly nine in 10 black teens in the city leave high school with no job experience.
“I kept thinking I can finally take care of my family, but after four weeks, I was right back where I started,” said Deleon Bush, a junior at Innovations High School who was able to land a temporary job at T.J. Maxx last summer.
During a Friday Chicago Urban League forum, Bush said he was able to help his mother pay bills for awhile — but he said a few months of work only gets you so far.
“I’ve still got the experience, but summer is a long time from now, and I’ve got a family to provide for,” Bush said.
Teens from more than 20 high schools across the city thanked lawmakers and state officials for creating more summer job opportunities and pushed for expanding job opportunities as unemployment rose to 89 percent last year for black teens in Chicago.
But a report by the Chicago Alternative Schools Network found stories like Bush’s are becoming increasingly rare. The unemployment rate among young black men climbed above 90 percent for the first time last year, according to the report, which cited U.S. Census data.
“We’re almost at 100 percent — 92 percent of black male teens are unemployed in the city of Chicago,” said Michelle Morales, associate director of the Alternative Schools Network, presenting findings of the report to lawmakers Friday.
Black teens from households in Chicago making less than $20,000 are even less likely to have a job. According to the report, 6 percent of poor black teens are employed, compared with 13 percent of Hispanic and 25 percent of white teens from poor households.
Lawmakers attributed some of the rise in the unemployment among teens to the 2007 financial crisis.
“A lot of adults are having to compete with teenagers because a lot of adults have lost their jobs,” said state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago).
Flowers said she would follow up and make sure that Illinois’ job programs for youth were going to those from low-income families.
“You took on a burden when you said youth need more jobs, and I appreciate you taking on that burden,” said Cesario Williams, who found a job as a community organizer with the Chicago Area Project through a summer jobs program.
The report shows that unemployment is much more prevalent among black teens, regardless of family income.
According to the report, the disparity between employment between white and Hispanic teens has narrowed in recent years for families higher up the income ladder, but black teens have not seen the same gains. Among Chicago households making $100,000 to $149,000, 9 percent of black teens are employed, compared with 30 percent of teens from Hispanic families and 33 percent for teens from white families.
City and state officials all promised to work to create more summer job opportunities for teens, but said the problem is beyond the government’s ability to solve.
“There is way more demand then we have the capacity to respond to in the public sphere,” said Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.
Diaz said the mayor has committed to expand funding for creating summer job opportunities for teens, and the next challenge is to get similar commitments from the private sector.
“That’s how we get you through the summer and on through the rest of the year,” Diaz said.