Young black men who live in segregated, hollowed-out areas of America's cities have long suffered disproportionately high rates of joblessness, which makes those communities especially vulnerable to family instability and acts of violence committed by young people who have no stake in society.
This problem has reached catastrophic dimensions in Chicago, where nearly half of all 20-to-24-year-old black men were neither employed nor enrolled in school in 2014. Of black teenagers, ages 16 to 19, nearly 89 percent had no work in 2014.
Recent research provides some clues for what drives unemployment and social disconnection in Chicago's poor communities. It shows that the city's high-poverty communities have lost much of the middle class and can no longer support businesses or even nonprofit institutions. Per capita, poor communities in Chicago have fewer of these institutions than equally poor areas in the average American city or even in the average Rust Belt city.
There are ways to reach young people who live in such neighborhoods. For example, research suggests that even temporary summer jobs, accompanied by mentoring, can help them keep their lives on track. The results of a 2014 study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania are particularly promising. The study focused on disadvantaged high school students from high-violence neighborhoods. Some students were placed in Chicago's One Summer Plus program, which put them in eight-week nonprofit or government jobs. Others were not offered jobs and assigned to a control group. The working students received mentors who taught them how to succeed at work. Researchers followed the students for a total of 16 months and found that the summer job students were far less likely to be arrested in connection with violent crimes than students in the control group.
In quantitative terms, the program reduced arrests for violent offenses by 43 percent over the period studied. Researchers will continue to follow these young people to see if the summer job experience improves later education and employment outcomes.
Chicago expects to expand the program to 3,000 students this summer, up from 2,000 in 2015. Of course, that is still well short of the need in a city of Chicago's size. To help more of Chicago's young people trapped in jobless communities, public and private groups in Chicago and Illinois should have a greater a sense of urgency and commit to finance many more summer jobs. LEARN MORE