More summer jobs for Chicago youth is a smart move, if city can find the money

Research by the University of Chicago Urban Labs shows that summer jobs keep young people out of trouble. Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s plan to expand One Summer Chicago deserves support.

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Millennium Park security wave a baton around a woman at a security checkpoint at Millennium Park in The Loop, Friday, April 21, 2023. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Millennium Park security officials wave a baton around a woman at a security checkpoint on April 21. Less than a week before, two teens were shot and at least 15 people were arrested during violence downtown.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

By this point in the year, when fall-like temperatures linger a month into spring, most Chicagoans are ready for the weather to warm up.

Yet even those who yearn for summer still brace themselves, anticipating the uptick in violence that usually accompanies the heat.

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No matter what time of the year, unseasonably mild weather means an increased risk of shootings in the country’s largest cities, and in Chicago and other locales in the Northeast and Midwest, spikes in gun violence are more pronounced on hotter-than-average days, according to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open.

The recent mayhem downtown that led to the shootings of two teenage boys — on a night where a jacket was optional — was an unwelcome reminder of what June, July and August can bring. But research shows that if Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson can double the number of summer jobs available for the city’s teenagers, as he’s vowed to do, it can help curb crime.

Editorial

Editorial

That proposal, along with last Saturday’s public show of support for youth, is a signal to them that their elders care and want to give them a sense of purpose.

The challenge with Johnson’s plan is to move fast. When he takes office next month, the city’s deadline to apply for summer employment will creep up just two weeks later and he’ll be stuck with the budget put in place by outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, as WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel reported.

So businesses, community organizations and sister government agencies must come together quickly with the city to provide the necessary funding to bolster opportunities for teenagers and young adults through the One Summer Chicago program.

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More coordination and preparation with Chicago police, as Johnson’s chief of staff promised, is welcome too. But more summer jobs for youth will go a long way to keeping them out of trouble and potentially keep the city safer, as past research by the University of Chicago Urban Labs suggests: The research found that violent crime arrests of participants in prior versions of One Summer Chicago dropped.

Chicago can walk and chew gum at the same time: Hold young people accountable when they commit crimes, while making sure to offer them opportunity, not cast aside them quickly aside.

Last Saturday’s downtown march let them know many people have their backs.

“We cannot allow a generation to be lost,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, national executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

As a city, it’s up to us to try to keep teens and young adults from going off course — by continually nudging them in the right direction.

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