The American dream vs. the reality


At YJC, our dream is to help every young person plan their future, develop support networks, move into the workforce, experience success, and build a path to a successful adulthood that meets their needs and interests. The American Dream, right?  

We’ve heard in recent months that the unemployment rate in the U.S. continues to go down, which is great. And it’s been reported that the unemployment rate for black Americans is at the lowest point since 1972, which is also good.  But these larger numbers don’t reflect the reality many young people face, making it difficult to reconcile these reports as more than a simple answer to a complicated question.

In their critical research, Dr. Teresa Cordova and Matt Wilson of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago report that over 40 percent of black males ages 20-24 in Chicago are out of work and out of school. (View the report here.) Comparing employment data going back to 1960, this report highlights the disconnect between overall employment numbers and the reality many young people face. For example:

  • 20 to 24 year olds were worse off in Chicago in 2015 than in 1960, despite the fact that this trend is reversed in Illinois and the greater U.S.
  • Every racial ethnic group of 16 to 19 year olds were severely impacted by the Great Recession with the largest impacts in Chicago. Even after a period of recovery from 2010 to 2015, no group of 16 to 19 year olds in Chicago had pre-recession employment to population ratios.

This information shows that while the economic situation for many people has improved, there are still large groups of people that have been left out of this economic growth, mainly young people, and especially young people of color. And this is where it becomes incredibly complicated. There exists a lack of job opportunities within low-income communities. Access to information, technology and resources to apply for jobs or training programs may not be readily available. Further, poverty, health, transportation and education impact how a young person understands themselves, their opportunities and their future path. 

The American Dream still exists, but for thousands of young people the path to making that dream a reality is uncertain. That is why Youth Job Center is dedicated to working with young people and helping them find opportunities that fit their needs and interests. As YJC’s founder, Ann Jennett stated often, “If you can dream it, you can be it.”  We believe that with our collective support we can help young people step onto the path of success so that they can make their American Dream a reality.


Karen T. Demorest
Executive Director