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SPECIAL REPORT: Disconnected youth – Amid a nationwide crisis, the Chicago situation is acute

(Thirteen men were shot in Chicago on Monday morning and early afternoon, including two along a Safe Passage route in the West Englewood neighborhood, according to authorities. The shootings left four dead and several survivors in critical condition.)

A new report – Lost: The Crisis Of Jobless and Out Of School Teens and Young Adults In Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Illinois and the U.S. – shows that teens and young adults in Chicago aren’t keeping up with the rest of the nation, or even with other major cities.

Commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network (ASN) and developed by the University of Illinois Chicago's Great Cities Institute (GCI), the report paints this picture:

As the death toll mounts and gang battles escalate in the same neighborhoods where youth unemployment is at its highest, funding for employment programs is on increasingly shaky ground, with politics overriding policy at both the state and federal levels.

Despite a national economic recovery, Chicago remains one of the nation's leaders in youth joblessness, according to the GCI report. African Americans and Hispanics continue to be significantly behind with 47 percent of young African-American men (20-24) and 20 percent of young Hispanic men jobless and out of school in Chicago. This is compared to 32 percent nationwide and 31 percent in both New York and Los Angeles for African-American men; and 18 percent nationwide and in New York 27 percent and Los Angeles 14 percent for Hispanics.

The situation is even worse for Chicago's African-American and Hispanic teens (16-19), with 88 percent of African Americans and 85 percent of Hispanics in that group not working, compared to 71 percent nationwide.

Jack Wuest, Alternative Schools Network executive director

“We are seeing the results of this monumental policy failure every day, as the shootings mount up and the funerals multiply,” said Jack Wuest, Alternative Schools Network executive director. “The new data that’s being presented draws a straight line between the unemployment crisis for youth and the escalating violence in Chicago's hardest hit neighborhoods.

“I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: Investments in creating meaningful work for these youth will pay dividends immediately and for years to come. A failure to do so has had and will continue to have dire consequences for our city and our state.”


  • Employment among young people across the nation has not recovered to pre-recession levels, the percentage of 16-19 year olds who were employed had dropped to 26 percent in 2011, from 37 percent in 2005 and had only climbed to 29 percent by 2014.

  • Chicago youth lag behind not only the national average, but also behind those living in the major cities of New York and Los Angeles. And while African-American and Hispanic youth are struggling disproportionately across the board, their access to jobs in Chicago is at desperation levels.

  • Nationwide, 18.2 percent of youth 20-24 were out of school and out of work in 2014, compared to 17.1 percent in Illinois, 22.9 percent in Chicago, 21.1 percent in New York City and 16.4 percent in Los Angeles.

  • For Chicago's white youth, 20 to 24, 6.7 percent were out of school and out of work. Among African Americans 20 to 24, 40.9 percent were out of school and out of work, compared to 27.3 percent in New York City and 29.3 percent in Los Angeles.

  • Jobless rates for those ages 20 to 24 are highest on the South and West sides of Chicago and are lowest in on the North, Northwest and Southwest sides of the City.

  • Areas with 40.1 percent to 60.0 percent and 60.1 percent to 80.0 percent ranges of jobless individuals are remarkably similar to the areas where over 90 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are African Americans.

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