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Bullet-proof Jobs: Summer Employment May Help Stem Youth Violence

3:38 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

A 2011 installation outside of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church displayed 77 t-shirts, representing the 77 Chicago youth who were killed by violence during the 2010-2011 school year. (Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Flickr)

Originally published at In These Times

It’s conventional wisdom: Kids get into trouble when they have nothing better to do. Now, research reveals that a summer youth employment program might reduce violence, apparently bearing out the adage that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab think tank shows that youth who participated in the city’s One Summer Plus employment program had a much better chance of avoiding arrests for violent crime than those who did not have the same opportunities.

Researchers tracked a sample of 730 youth who were selected through an open, lottery-based application process to participate in the jobs program. They ranged in age 14 to 21 and attended schools in low-income communities with high rates of violence. In the year prior to the program, they had missed an average of six weeks of school, and about one in five had been arrested. In short, they represented the youth most vulnerable to Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence, as well as to a general decline in youth employment—both problems that disproportionately affectblack teens.

The One Summer Plus teens were matched with private, nonprofit and faith-based workplaces, in entry-level, minimum-wage positions such as child care, clerical work and landscaping. The program is financed by foundation and government funding.

Researchers found that the “at-risk youth” who had engaged in the summer work “experienced a 51 percent drop in arrests for violent crime” in the seven months after the program’s conclusion when compared to a peer control group. Though researchers say more data is needed to comprehensively assess the impact on schooling and long-term development, the positive findings so far suggest that the money invested in the program (about $3,000 per youth) pays economic and social dividends down the line.

The study parallels other research showing the social benefits of teen employment, including a recent study on a similar program in Boston that linked summer jobs to “positive changes in risky, deviant, delinquent, and violent behaviors” among urban youth.

Though the University of Chicago researchers provided rare empirical insight into the benefits of youth employment, for kids like Devontae Banks, the cost-benefit analysis is more straightforward. One Summer got him a job as a peer health educator with a local HIV/AIDS prevention campaign. That summer job, which involved giving presentations to other youth on sexual health and HIV prevention, has since grown into a long-term position. He now plans to study medicine after graduating—an aspiration he would never have picked up in his old summer job, helping harvest crops at a farm in Sterling. For Banks, the real reward of the program was access to a job that was more stimulating and made him feel invested in his community, rather than just manual labor for pocket money.

“In the previous job, it was just no skill required, just all hard work,” he says. The challenge of the One Summer job was daunting at first, he recalls: “I was nervous, because I didn’t know as much as I know now about HIV and STDs. But now it’s like a walk through a park. It’s actually kind of fun.”

Researchers note that the effects of summer employment continue long after the six-to-seven-week work period, which suggests it does more for youth than just occupy idle time. University of Chicago researcher Sara Heller, one of the authors of the study, tells In These Times via email that she sees a long-term behavioral shift: Read the rest of this entry →

For Disgruntled Young Workers, Lawsuits May Spark Intern Insurrection

4:46 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Ruben Schade/Flickr/Creative Commons).

Originally published at In These Times

You’d have to be pretty desperate to offer to work for free, right? Or you could be just an enthusiastic young student who believes that toiling for little more than free coffee and a line on your resume may boost your future career. But recent research shows that unpaid internships are not likely to lead a coveted job offer.

Now, some interns are taking legal action against bosses whom they say offered nothing in return for their labor. And the courts are listening. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Manhattan cast a legal shadow over unpaid internships by certifying a class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight and Fox Entertainment Group. Two unpaid interns filed suit accusing Fox of denying them proper wages for the weeks they spent performing essentially the same duties as regular employees.

The suit reveals how youthful aspirants can be seduced into a crap job gilded with glamorous IOUs. Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman allege that as Fox Searchlight interns, they “took lunch orders, answered phones, arranged other employees’ travel plans, tracked purchase orders, took out the trash and assembled office furniture,” according to the New York Times.

The Department of Labor says that unpaid internships are supposed to balance educational experience for the intern and valuable labor for the employer. Paradoxically, under current legal guidelines, unpaid intern labor cannot include tasks that would warrant real pay, since any labor comparable to a regular job must be compensated as such.

Despite Fox’s rigorous legal denials, the suit may open avenues of recourse for many other interns and perhaps compel employers to drop unpaid internships in order to stear clear of labor violations.

So far one major payout has been issued to settle such a suit: The Charlie Rose Show recently paid a settlement totaling about $250,000 to provide back wages of roughly $110 per week for a group of as many as 189 unpaid interns.

Other major legal decisions are on the horizon. A similar suit was filed last year by a former intern at Hearst Magazines, claiming that the company violated New York State and federal labor laws by giving unpaid interns tasks with no educational value, such as opening mail for editors, sometimes for a full work week. Though a judge recently ruled that the suit did not qualify as a class action, the claims might still be pursued individually.

The real value of an internship is ambiguous. A National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that paid internships did boost job prospects, unlike their unpaid counterparts. A majority of paid interns received a job offer afterward. But the unpaid intern experience seems more of a time suck than a springboard; unpaid interns received future paid job offers at about the same rate, just over 35 percent, as those who had not interned.

From class action to class consciousness

How does wage justice for unpaid interns, who fall somewhere between transitory office grunts and elites-in-training, fit into broader movements for workplace justice? On the one hand, the hordes of fresh-faced generalists flocking to unpaid jobs are a measure of the desperate state of today’s post-college labor market. At the same time, while unpaid interns may themselves be exploited, they represent the dregs of a tier of privilege that closes professional gateways for countless others. Less-privileged workers may dismiss the disgruntled interns as overachieving corporate climbers. However, the emerging legal conflicts suggest that the young professional precariat has more in common with ordinary struggling wage workers, despite what students are trained to believe about their future prospects.

Read the rest of this entry →

The Young and the Disconnected

11:02 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Young artists work with Beacon House and DC Summer Youth Employment Program to paint a mural. Such programs help fight youth disconnection and the unemployment that is correlated with it--but they are scattered and underfunded. (Rails to Trail Conservancy / Flickr / Creative Commons).

Originally posted at In These Times

A first paycheck has traditionally been seen as a rite of passage, but these days, that paycheck is often coming later and later. Rather than launching a career, young adulthood is becoming, for many, a springboard to a lifetime of hardship, debt and instability.

According to a sobering new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), “More youth than ever—2.2 million teenagers and 4.3 million young adults ages 20 to 24—are neither in school nor working…. It often takes a GED to get a job flipping hamburgers. Even some with college degrees are having trouble finding work.”

And joblessness itself, AECF warns, can set back youth in the long term.

Though mass unemployment hits older workers hard, the scourge of joblessness among youth affects the future in ways that concern advocates, who predict that youth are being tracked toward chronic economic insecurity. Getting early work experience can jumpstart youth on a career path, or at least confer viable job skills that make them more economically resilient in adulthood. Conversely, as the AECF report suggests, missed opportunities early in life can deprive youth of long-term dividends:

At this rate, a generation will grow up with little early work experience, missing the chance to build knowledge and the job-readiness skills that come from holding part-time and starter jobs.

The huge numbers of young people who are shut out of those opportunities are typically up against other challenges. Youth “disconnection”—detachment from work and school—is often associated with setbacks such as poverty and household social stress. Disconnected youth are disproportionately black and Latino, concentrated in impoverished households, and more likely to have children themselves. A study published in September by Measure of Americashows that youth disconnection follows socioeeconomic divisions between neighborhoods. In New York, “disconnection rates range from 3.7 percent in parts of Long Island to 35.6 percent in parts of the South Bronx.” Read the rest of this entry →

A Dream Deferred?

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Undocumented youth hold banner in support of the DREAM Act. (Edward Kimmel/Flickr)

Originally posted at In These Times.

This week the White House rolled out its “Deferred Action” policy, cracking open the door to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants without papers. Many see the promise of temporary protection from deportation as a first step toward genuine immigration reform. But the future is unclear: What exactly in it for these these youth, when all they’re being offered is temporary protection?

The Obama administration’s new policy, aimed at pleasing the Latino electorate, initially set off a flurry of celebration among immigrant youth activists who had long pushed for the DREAM Act. But skepticism persists. Legal protection derived from a directive from the Department of Homeland Security is, by nature, tenuous. The fate of the program could depend on who is in the White House next year. And unlike the DREAM Act, the Deferred Action policy allows people to work and study, but does not offer a direct path to long-term legalization.

On the other hand, Deferred Action offers some youth at least a modicum of security and could galvanize the broader movement to resist dysfunctional immigration policies.

Essentially, youth who came to the United States as children are now eligible for a two-year, renewable stay and a work permit, if they meet various criteria including  being 30 or younger, possessing a clean criminal record and having arrived before age 16. Read the rest of this entry →

Will Obama grant the DREAM in fragments?

10:33 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

DreamActivist via flickr

Cross-posted from Culture/Strike

The news is out–and so are undocumented youth around the country who hope that this time, there may be real change ahead. The Obama administration today announced that he will grant undocumented young people temporary immigration relief via an administrative directive by the Department of Homeland Security. The policy would apparently partially fulfill the goals of the DREAM Act campaign by allowing many undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation if they were “brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30,” according to the Associated Press, and have obtained a high school education or served in the military, and have no criminal record. Though it is not a comprehensive path toward full citizenship, the policy would reportedly help several hundred thousand youth avoid deportation and allow them to “apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.”

It appears that this is the administration’s effort to respond to this week’s nationwide mobilization for undocumented youth, coupled with the heightened media attention surrounding Jose Antonio Vargas’s TIME Magazine cover story (featuring CultureStrike’s own Julio Salgado).

Jose Antonio Vargas and his project Define American hailed the new policy as a validation of the struggles of DREAMers and their allies–and acknowledged that many others are still seeking a just and humane immigration solution:

The journey is far from over for the remaining millions of undocumented Americans like me–at 31, I am past the age limit–but this is a big, bold and necessary step in the road to citizenship. Read the rest of this entry →

Immigrant Students Wise Beyond Their Years

6:15 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen


Cross-posted from CultureStrike

High school is tough for every kid, but when you don’t speak the same language as your peers, all the anxieties of young adulthood are amplified as your voice gets lost in the crowd. The Global Action Project brings us the story of Lobsang, a Tibetan immigrant who deals with bullying, language barriers and just plain awkwardness as a teen growing up in the city.

New York public schools are filled with kids like Lobsang, struggling to learn English and adjust to the social pressures of life on the social and economic margins of their city. A report by the New York Immigration Coalition shows that English Language Learners (ELL) have lagged far behind other students in academic performance and graduate rates:

Barely a quarter of ELL students in the New York City’s class of 2006 graduated high school– less than half the rate of English Proficient students. This represented a decrease of 9% from the 2005 four-year ELL graduation rate of 35.3%. Nearly half of ELL students drops out of school after seven years.

The lack of resources across the public education system means that students with special needs are often ignored, despite the state’s responsibility to ensure equity in educational standards and access. Read the rest of this entry →

Documenting Undocumented Youth

6:55 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo: Adrian Gonzalez

Cross-posted from CultureStrike, a new project that fuses art and activism in the struggle for immigrants’ rights.

A few years back, Julio Salgado and his friends graduated from college and found themselves, like many of their peers, adrift: no good job prospects, hard-earned diplomas gathering dust under a slumped economy. But their drift was anchored by a heavy secret: they didn’t have papers, so every post-college hurdle that young people commonly face was thickened by the politics of a broken immigration system.

An epiphany came on the Day of the Dead, the Día de los Muertos that celebrates mortality and the afterlife. In the spirit of the holiday, Salgado and his colleagues, Jesus Iñiguez, Fernando Romero, and Deisy Hernandez, decided to create an altar in memory of their dreams. And the video they made of the mock memorial inspired them to keep going and see where their art would take them.

Today, the California-based team of four “DREAMers”–named for the thus far-failed DREAM Act legislation, which would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants who get a college education in the U.S.–run a nationwide media project devoted to telling stories about life as an undocumented youth.

Despite the name, DREAMers Adrift has a serious mission: to give voice and vision to an emergent political movement through media, ranging from spoken word to visual art to blogging. And despite their legal quagmires, they’ve made the plight of countless young people visible with a video series called “Undocumented and Awkward,” which whimsically depicts the absurdities of everyday life without papers. Read the rest of this entry →

Ethnic Studies Ruling Escalates Arizona Schools Struggle

11:55 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Tucson students occupy a school board meeting (Image:

Cross-posted from CultureStrike, a new project that fuses art and activism in the struggle for immigrants’ rights.

While students were on their holiday break, Arizona issued a disturbing wake-up call to anyone who thought the education system had evolved to reflect America’s diversity. In a legal challenge to a controversial law passed in 2010, an administrative law judge pummeled a flagship educational initiative by supporting restrictions on programs based on Latino history and culture.

The judge decided that the curriculum used in Tucson’s Mexican American studies programs was biased against white people, apparently because it advocates critical historical perspectives and emphasizes struggles of indigenous and Latino communities, as well as the links between that legacy and contemporary politics. The ruling comes as no surprise, as the struggle between the school district and school superintendent John Huppenthal has been dragging on for months. The focus now is on a pending federal lawsuit aimed at halting the law.

CNN quotes from ruling:

In Tuesday’s ruling, administrative law judge Lewis Kowal said the auditors observed only a limited number of classes. He added, “Teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.”

“Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals,” Kowal wrote. He cited a lesson that taught students that the historic treatment of Mexican-Americans was “marked by the use of force, fraud and exploitation,” and a parent’s complaint that one of her daughters, who was white, was shunned by Latino classmates after a government course was taught “in an extremely biased manner.”

So to sum up, it is “extremely biased” to teach critical viewpoints of the oppression, displacement and systematic discrimination that Mexicans and other groups have encountered throughout U.S. history. Read the rest of this entry →