The mission of Youth Job Center (YJC) is, “Success for young people, in the workplace and in life.” We envision a future where all young people have the support to build a meaningful career and fulfill their potential, and for the last 36 years we have worked to make that vision a reality.

The breakdown of Opportunity Youth, Chicago vs. surrounding suburbs

The breakdown of Opportunity Youth, Chicago vs. surrounding suburbs

There are roughly 82,000 Opportunity Youth In Cook County.

As an agency, Youth Job Center is dedicated to addressing the societal issue of Opportunity Youth, or young people ages 16-25 who are disconnected from work and school. YJC addresses this issue by providing programs that are preventative as well as responsive, working to prevent youth from becoming disconnected while simultaneously working with youth who are already disconnected. Currently, there are approximately 82,000 Opportunity Youth in Cook County, IL.

Helping youth find work makes for a stronger community with less crime, drugs, and violence.

To put it simply, the need to address this issue is dire. For many young people in Chicago, securing quality employment is vital, not just to their livelihood and career success, but to their survival. A 2017 report published by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago titled Abandoned in their Neighborhood: Youth Joblessness amidst the Flight of Industry and Opportunity shows that their is a high correlation between joblessness and violence in Chicago, meaning youth who live in areas with high rates of joblessness are exposed to increased amounts of violent crime. The report also calls back to previous research studies that assert “increases in youth unemployment causes increases in burglaries, thefts, and drug offences,” reinforcing the idea that young people who are out of school and out of work are more likely to become involved with violence, gangs, and drugs. This information shows that helping youth obtain employment is important to the well-being of youth in our city but also the communities that they live in.

College-for-all is not feasible for everyone, nor does it work for everyone.

Annual full time income when making minimum wage vs. the Avg. Total Cost of College

Annual full time income when making minimum wage vs. the Avg. Total Cost of College

A popular approach to this issue has been to encourage a college-for-all approach. While this approach is well-intentioned, it has had the unintentional side effect of dissuading young people from confidently and knowledgeably pursuing other viable paths to careers. As a result, many young people are unaware of the career opportunities that are available to them or how to pursue them.

Additionally, college is simply not financially feasible for many young people, especially those who come from low-income households. For youth who come from homes with limited financial resources, the prospect of incurring tens of thousands of dollars in debt is daunting. Furthermore, evidence shows that despite decades of best-efforts to help every individual enroll and persist through college, it is simply not an approach that is effective for everyone.

CPS Grads, enrollment and persistance.PNG

According to information provided by Chicago Public Schools:

  • Only 64.6% of CPS graduates enroll in a two-year or four-year college after graduating from high school.

  • Of that number, only 72.3% persist into their second year.

  • Therefore, only 46.7% of CPS graduates make it to their second year of college, and the number continues to drop after that

This means that of the approximately 20,000 youth who graduate from CPS in a given year, only approximately 9,300 stay in college until their second year. What do the other almost 11,000 students do?

Joblessness disproportionately effects people of color, to provide equitable access to quality employment we must create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities.

While some youth are able to land on their feet and find work or other ways to engage with education, the difficult reality is that many of these young people are left disconnected from work or school. While this information is staggering in its own right, it becomes even more disheartening when you realize that this issue disproportionately effects young people of color, who often come from communities that have been historically under-served. According to a May 2019 report using 2017 data (the latest available):

OY, by race.PNG
  • Among 20-24 year olds, 37.5% of Blacks, 17.2% of Hispanics or Latinos, and 8.5% of Whites are out of school and out of work in Cook County.

  • Among 20-24 year olds, Cook County has a significantly higher percentage of Blacks that were out of work and out of school than the rest of the U.S. Nationwide 23.7% of Blacks, 17.1% of Hispanics or Latinos, and 12.5% of Whites are out of school and out of work.

When viewed together, all of this information points to a clear issue: tens of thousands of Chicago youth, especially youth of color, are struggling to build a better future due to inequitable access to economic resources, insufficient educational support, and a lack of knowledge of career paths and how to pursue them. These youth are are more likely to experience hardships such as unstable housing or homelessness, involvement with the criminal justice system, and the violent crime that plagues some Chicago communities. Their future, in most situations, is not a bright one.

That is why it is so important that YJC works to help young people, especially those from under-served and at-risk communities, connect with meaningful employment opportunities. By helping youth to obtain employment with a living wage and career advancement we can lower the number of young people who experience violent crime and help neighborhoods throughout Chicago build a better community, one job at a time.