State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago) participated earlier today in a hearing on the crisis of youth joblessness in Illinois. The Chicago Urban League sponsored the event, which featured the presentation of several new studies of regional and state unemployment, as well as a group of teenagers and young adults who shared their experiences with joblessness. Elected officials, including three other state senators and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, were invited to listen as the speakers testified to the challenges of starting out in the workforce.

“I was very impressed with the young people who spoke today, conveying courage and honesty as they recounted the issues they’ve faced while trying to secure jobs,” Sen. Collins said after the event. “There were single teen moms there; there were teens living in homes where their parents were also struggling to find productive employment. I was especially moved by the hopelessness Elizabeth Davis expressed; she feels her generation is ‘chasing a dream that is not really for us.’”    

The reports, prepared by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northwestern University in Boston at the request of the Alternative Schools Network, painted a bleak picture of long-term and youth unemployment in the region. Among other grim statistics, the reports found that in 2010, 84% of teenagers in the Chicago area (and 71% statewide) were without jobs. Except for the wealthiest households, the likelihood of having a job actually decreased with household income. In Chicago, only 10% of African-American youths living in households with a yearly income under $20,000 were employed in 2010. Illinois high school drop-outs ages 16 to 24 were less than half as likely to have jobs as high school graduates not attending college, and workers under 24 were one of the least likely age groups to be able to find another job soon after being laid off.

“It is vital that we address the challenges facing our youth regarding education and jobs,” State Senator Jacqueline Collins said. “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. That’s why 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.”

The Pathways Back to Work Act, part of President Obama’s jobs package, would (if passed) send $1.5 billion to states to provide incentives for employers to hire and train teenagers and young adults, and another $1.5 billion as grants to organizations that help low-income youths and the long-term unemployed become qualified for jobs, particularly in emerging industries.

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