Without the pressures of school, summer can be a time to relax for many teens. But others are reaping the benefits of summer jobs. Beyond the obvious paycheck, what are the benefits of a summer job?
Several decades of research show a correlation between youth unemployment and crime. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has made teen employment a public safety priority. He’s pledged to double the number of jobs in the city’s youth employment program known as “One Summer Chicago.”
Unfortunately, Chicago’s youth summer jobs program is still recovering from the pandemic. In the summer of 2019, the city had 31,552 summer jobs — enough for almost every teenager who wanted one. But last summer, as well as this summer, the city has less than half the number of jobs as applicants.
Growing up in the neighborhoods of Little Village and West Lawn, Tony Diaz remembers how important it was for him to have access to adult mentors and summer opportunities through After School Matters, a nonprofit providing paid opportunities for Chicago high school students. Now Diaz is the group’s chief program officer.
“Teens need to feel like there are adults invested in their well-being, their future,” Diaz said. “Young people may not see any real path to their career goals. The goal with After School Matters is not only that teens will receive exposure to careers, mentoring and technical skills, but they’ll gain the soft skills you get through employment, like leadership, communication, learning to work as a team.”
Diaz believes summer jobs and programs like After School Matters also help teens connect with their communities.
“We want to amplify the positive things our young people can do for the city,” Diaz said. “Whether it’s creating art or getting involved in community issues, we want teens to ask how they can be agents of positive change. It’s important for them to see themselves as an asset to the city.”
Diaz joined Jennifer Johnson (no relation to Brandon Johnson), Chicago’s deputy mayor for education, youth and human services, and Jamari Coleman, a participant in the Peacemakers Program with After School Matters, on “Chicago Tonight” for a conversation about youth employment.