Youth unemployment exacerbates violence

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The recession is literally a matter of life and death this summer for the youth who are facing record levels of street violence resulting from of unemployment. In this city, there have been funeral services for youth killed by gun violence nearly every two weeks this summer. At the same time, the city's youth summer jobs program was only able to employ half the number of youth as it did last year.

New Haven's youth unemployment rate reflects the Bureau of Labor Statistics' recent assertion that the national youth unemployment rate reached an all-time high this summer.

"If you have a job, from, say, 7:00 to 3:00, then you only have about three or four hours afterwards to possibly get yourself in trouble," explains David White, a 26-year-old youth organizer in New Haven.  "But if you don't have a job, you have all day long to get yourself in trouble and into bad situations."

The problem of unemployment and violence extends far beyond New Haven, which was labeled this past May as the nation's fourth most dangerous city in an FBI crime statistics report. The Hartford Courant has reported double the number of gun-related homicides in Hartford this summer as there were last year at this time. In Chicago, during Memorial Day Weekend alone, six people were killed and 21 were injured by gun violence. That same weekend, 1,000 youth were part of a gang-related fight on Carson Beach in South Boston. In general, the Center for Disease Control reports that youth violence is the second leading cause of death for young people in the U.S.

Communities and government officials are responding by calling for youth job training, employment opportunities and educational advancement.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick has authorized a $10 million program to create youth job training in Boston communities. He is also calling on the private sector to play a leading role in creating employment for young people.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa began a program four years ago called Summer Night Lights, which keeps public parks open until midnight with activities for youth and families. Summer Night Lights created 1,000 jobs this past summer, including "Youth Squads" of young counselors assigned to each park to oversee activities. The program reduced gang related homicides by 57 percent, making 2011 the safest summer in Los Angeles since 1967, according to the City of Los Angeles's home page.

In New Haven, recent high school graduate Inez Bell spoke on a panel about jobs and economic opportunity with Rep. Rosa De Lauro. Bell highlighted the importance of Pell grants and other financial assistance for students seeking higher education, and reminded the audience that any financial support makes a difference for students who are struggling to pay for school. The jobs panel was organized by the Connecticut State AFL-CIO and other organizations who are concerned with the ways that proposed government budget cuts will affect working class people.

Rep. De Lauro emphasized that the current "debt crisis" has been fabricated, and reminded the audience that George W. Bush raised the debt ceiling during his presidency seven times.

Also in New Haven, David White and others are reaching out to youth organizations, labor unions and elected officials to build a coalition that can advocate for youth jobs.  The coalition is planning its first meeting in late September.

At the national level, within Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky's Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, the Congresswoman has proposed that 100,000 of those jobs be earmarked for youth between the ages of 16 and 25 to restore public lands, parks, and historical sites.

Communities and government working together can heal the devastating cycle of unemployment and youth violence. This can be achieved especially if large corporations are required to pay their share of taxes and invest in job creation programs.

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