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Senate Democrats Attend Forum Highlighting Youth Employment

urbanleague-IMG 0092Teen employment in Illinois and the Midwest has decreased drastically in the last decade, in large part due to the economic challenges facing the nation. In the past decade, teen employment in the United States has dropped from 45 percent to 26 percent. During this same period, Illinois' youth employment rate dropped from nearly 50 percent of teens employed in 2001 to only 29 percent today.

These statistics were presented by researchers from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts at an event hosted by the Chicago Urban League and the Alternative Schools Network and attended by State Senators Jacqueline Collins, Mattie Hunter, Kimberly Lightford, and Kwame Raoul.

The forum also featured discussion from lawmakers and other officials about state and federal policies and programs that can help teens find employment and educational opportunities.

"We are using vehicles like the statewide construction program and tax credits to encourage job creation amongst adults, and we've seen a decrease in the unemployment rate," said Sen. Hunter. "The General Assembly needs that same creative mentality and apply it to teen and youth employment. Continued action is needed both at the state and federal level. Without access to jobs as teenagers, an entire generation will be deprived of the development of talents and skills needed for future employment and education."

While teen employment is drastically down across the state and across demographics, those groups hardest hit include minorities, youth from low income homes, and high school dropouts. More than 70 percent of high school dropouts in Illinois were unemployed and were not receiving any form of further education. Only 16 percent of teens in the City of Chicago are currently employed.

During the presentation, teens asked lawmakers to urge congress to act on the The Pathways to Work Fund, a part of the American jobs Act before Congress. The act would provide $5 Billion for summer jobs, year-round jobs, and training for low-income teens, young adults, and adults in the United States.

If passed, the measure would give $1.5 billion to states to provide incentives to train and hire young adults. An additional $1.5 billion would go to organizations aimed at assisting low-income youth in finding employment and job training programs.

"It is vital that we address the challenges facing our youth regarding education and jobs," State Senator Jacqueline Collins said. "Statistics reveal that African-American teens in the city of Chicago face the bleakest picture, with only 10% employed. Education plays a significant role in a person's prospects for finding employment. Therefore, there is a dire need amongst our teens and young adults for employment that combines training with work to ensure their long-term job security. I applaud these young people who are willing to speak out about their experiences, and I join with them in urging Congress to pass the Pathways Back to Work Act."

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