Curb violence by finding jobs for city youths

By Richard Greenwald, The Philadelphia Inquirer | March 15, 2015

Stoneleigh Fellow Richard Greenwald wrote an Op-ed piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Young people who are not working, not in school, or not participating in a training program are facing risky futures and present serious challenges for American society. Many are likely to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Others may be looking at encounters with the criminal justice system.

These are some of the concerns that Mayor Nutter and five other mayors are addressing in a series of meetings on juvenile-justice reform this week in Washington, hosted by the National League of Cities and the MacArthur Foundation.

According to Opportunity Nation, a national bi-partisan think tank seeking to expand youth economic mobility, there are more than 5.8 million U.S. young adults who are either not in school or not employed. A study by the Brookings Institution shows that these numbers have grown in the last decade, especially for youths of color. Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that about one in four African American youths are actively looking for work but unable to find it.

Here at home, in a cluster of north-central Philadelphia neighborhoods that make up the 22nd Police District, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is 38.6 percent. Not surprisingly, this part of our city has some of the highest rates of youth violence.

Police in Philadelphia have a deliberate approach to reduce youth homicides and shootings through smart, strategic law enforcement. They are identifying and analyzing hot-spot areas; aligning police, the offices of the district attorney and U.S. attorney, and others dissuade youth from gun violence; and committing to community policing and outreach.

However, law enforcement alone cannot reduce violence in the long term. We have to address the drivers of youth violence and complement good policing with effective prevention and intervention efforts – most notably helping youths get on the path to employment.

The U.S. Department of Justice created the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention to address the connections among violence, high unemployment, and other ills. Philadelphia became one of the 10 member cities in late 2012. As a result, Nutter, the Stoneleigh Foundation, and key grassroots leaders created the Philadelphia Youth Violence Prevention Collaborative (YVPC), a coalition of more than 100 organizations throughout the city.

YVPC’s focus is on the variable needs of a range of young people. It is trying to develop a safety net of services and policies that address causes of youth violence, including trauma, juvenile detention, unsafe schools, blighted neighborhoods, low educational attainment, and the difficulty of successfully reintegrating into our communities after incarceration. As part of YVPC’s mission to help young people access starter jobs and ultimately the mainstream labor market, the organization is facilitating the funding and implementation of evidence-based jobs programs for at-risk youths.

The city and Greenlight Fund Philadelphia are leading a public/private coalition to create a transitional jobs program this spring aimed at at-risk 18- to 24-year-olds. The program would combine time-limited wage-paid work, job skills training, and support services to help individuals succeed in the workforce. Evidence collected by the National Transitional Jobs Network shows that, even when the labor market is weak, this approach keeps these individuals working and contributes to lowering recidivism, reducing reliance on public benefits, and improving lives. Transitional jobs programming is particularly beneficial for youths who lack prior work experience and need time and practice to learn successful workplace behavior.

This new program will be directed by the New York City-based Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which works with youths coming out of incarceration or detention, and the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department plans to provide 150 jobs for program participants.

CEO’s plan is to develop a system of referrals from the state parole and community corrections systems, with an emphasis on people from North-Central Philadelphia; immediately place these new workers on crews; offer supports for job readiness and training; and eventually provide placement and retention services to ensure participants get jobs after their transitional work experience ends.

This public/private partnership model can provide the youths who are most disconnected from the mainstream with opportunities, connections, relationships, and experiences that lead to long-term employment. Through this transitional jobs program and other initiatives, we expect to add 200 jobs for at-risk youths this spring. This will boost the participants, but also help Philadelphia continue to become a safer city.

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.