By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Their applications were submitted and the interviews were done. Now came the wait. Will 15-year-old Chauncy Hood and his 16-year-old brother Terrance from the South Shore neighborhood beat out thousands of applicants for a job with the ultra competitive One Summer Chicago program?
The answer came in an email May 31, a day after the Memorial Day Weekend. As it turned out, this will be a sizzling summer for the teenage boys. Both of them snagged job offers to work at a variety of places through One Summer Chicago, a hot program sends successful job applicants to work in the city’s major departments and services.
For the Hoods, the job offer was a sweet victory after the boys were turned down for the program last summer. It was also a real life lesson in patience and perseverance for two well-mannered teenagers seeking to earn a living on their own. They will be among a relatively small amount of Black teenagers who will spend the dog days of summer having fun and earning some cash.
“They are so excited. They want to work,” said the boys’ mother Shawn Samson.
With temperatures in the 90s, the official first day of summer arrived on Tuesday, June 21. Thousands of youth still without jobs are weathering the grit and grind in pursuit of work. With money scarce around the house, the heat is on for many who grow frustrated every day after fruitless interviews, job leads and phone calls.
Against the odds, some Black youth in Chicago are bagging summer jobs in a slow job market where traditional retail and restaurant jobs have eroded over the years. While these establishments are still hiring for the summer season, they are offering fewer jobs than in years past. Many blame the Great Recession and a changing job market. For many Black youth, finding a job any time during the year has always been difficult.
However, a job during the summer season is viewed as a solution to violence and a survival tool for Black youth in Chicago, Gary and cities around the country where the homicide rate rises as the mercury climbs.
Summer is roughly three months. That’s 90 days of freedom and fun. For parents, it’s 90 days of anxiety, fear and for some, mayhem. In the Black community, parents whose teens are employed during the summer can relax easily from knowing where their child is working, especially when a siren from an ambulance blares into their neighborhood.
The Hoods may be busy this summer, but many teenagers will not. According to the career outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the number of jobs that people ages 16 to 19 secured in May – the start of the summer hiring surge – was just 156,000. In 2015, the number of teens who got summer jobs was nearly 11 percent lower than the previous year, according to the firm.
In the Black community, the problem is even worse. Many businesses in poor neighborhoods on the South and West Sides cannot afford to hire extra help during the summer. While many teenagers give up searching for jobs, others scope out bigger companies in more affluent neighborhoods. With lack of transportation and little professional help, their search can be a challenge.
It’s a hurdle for thousands of teenagers as Chicago Public Schools ended its school year on June 21. Nearly 400,000 teenagers will either go to summer school, work, just have fun or get into trouble. Among them are 160,000 Black teenagers, whose parents are scrambling to find ways to keep them safe during the most violent season of the year.
In Gary, Indiana, the predominately Black school district’s 6,500 students were out of school after the final bell rang on June 3. Crowds of teenagers have been known to hang out on part of Broadway during the summer. With a smaller job market than Chicago, they face bigger challenges. The city’s battered economy has presented a big problem for teenagers in recent years. With little jobs, many teenagers will roam the city’s streets and neighborhoods, looking for just about anything to do. For adult residents and police, it’s a recipe for trouble and a threat to a city that’s trying to clean up its image.
At the Gary Area Career Center on 35th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, James Ward runs a six- week summer program for middle school students. As program director of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), Ward said a tight budget provides little room for growth.
“We can take about 300 kids at this point, our summer budget is about $300,000 so that works out to about $1,000 per student,” Ward said.
The limitation leaves Black youth in both Chicago and Gary scrambling to find jobs or ways to avert a wasted summer. With gun violence tearing Black neighborhoods apart, community leaders in both cities are concerned that jobless youth will flirt with danger and add to their homicide rates.
Dominque Cole, 18, won’t be one of them. Last week, she got a job at FedEx near O’Hare Airport. A resident of Parkway Gardens Apartments in Woodlawn, Cole will work 30 hours a week and earn $13.75 as a package handler. Cole said she applied for the job on Indeed.com. She said she received a call for an interview a day after she completed the application online.
Cole said some of her friends have landed summer jobs at Subway, Walmart and the hip retailer Forever 21 on the Mag Mile.
Cole’s older sister, Chareese Cole, 19, will spend her summer doing gardening work for $10 an hour. She starts in two weeks. Chareese said her aunt helped her get the job. She wanted a permanent job, but for now, Chareese is grateful that she will have money during the summer.
“I’m happy, but it’s sad that you can’t get a job all year round,” she said.
Another teenager in Parkway Gardens was still looking for a job as of June 14.
“It’s hard,” said the teenager, who did not give her name.
Traditionally, many teenagers start applying for summer jobs during the spring. They hope to beat out other applicants by applying early as possible. The most sought out job is with One Summer Chicago, an extensive job program that involves the city, Cook County and private companies. It’s Chicago’s largest and most competitive summer jobs program in the city.
The city accepted applications from March 14 to May 15. Job seekers applied online, where they were asked a variety of questions about their interests and skills. Applicants must be between 14 and 24 years of age and must live in Chicago. Many jobs with One Summer Chicago begin June 27.
In February 2015, NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his business partners gave a $10 million donation to One Summer Chicago, adding 5,000 jobs to the program.
The program is expected to serve nearly 30,000 youth this summer. Last year, 66,000 people applied, but only 25,000 were hired, according to the city. In 2014, 67,000 students applied for 22,500 jobs.
It’s unclear how many applicants or employees are Black. The Crusader sent an email to One Summer Chicago, asking for this information, but no one responded by press time.
In 2015, the Hood brothers were among the thousands of candidates who didn’t get job offers. Instead, they spent last summer working at a pre-school where their mother works.
Determined, the brothers decided to apply again this year to One Summer Chicago and they were accepted. Now they will have the opportunity to earn $1,500 during the sum- mer. They have a choice of working with After School Matters, the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library or the Chicago Zoological Society.
Employees are hired to do a variety tasks, ranging from clerical work to bike repair to forestry work. On June 6, the city welcomed 353 new lifeguard recruits to its 1,000 member staff. The new recruits applied for the position through the One Summer Chicago program.
In the Black community, applicants apply for the program through local agencies, including the Martin Luther King Community Center in Bronzeville and the Chicago Urban League.
“We just make sure they have everything they need to be successful in the application process,” said Andrew Wells, Director of Workforce Development for the Urban League.
In addition to One Summer Chi- cago, Blacks are finding other job opportunities this summer. On Monday, June 13, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Saint Sabina’s Father Michael Pfleger announced a new jobs youth program that will hire 50 youths and young adults in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. Called the Auburn-Gresham Pilot, the program will hire applicants between the ages of 16 to 28, whose positions can lead to full-time permanent jobs.
“Whether it is through education or jobs training, an investment in Chicago’s youth is the best investment for Chicago’s future,” said Emanuel. “As part of our commitment to creating opportunity and investing in our communities, this pilot will ensure that, one community at a time, our young men have the tools they need to get back on track to secure a good-paying job and a brighter future.