Chicago aldermen got an earful Tuesday about Chicago’s multi-pronged efforts to combat the traditional summer surge of violence amid concern that the city has more summer jobs than it has applicants.
Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced applications were open for One Summer Chicago, the annual summer jobs program aimed at those age 14 to 24.
The program runs July 5 to Aug. 13 and includes both remote and socially distanced, in-person jobs and life skills training for 21,000 young people. The deadline to apply for those coveted positions is June 11. Applications can be found at OneSummerChicago.org.
But during a virtual hearing Tuesday before a pair of City Council Committees, Health and Human Relations Committee Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th) asked about a troubling trend tied to the outpouring of federal relief funds from Washington. That is, a shortage of applicants for summer jobs.
“I know a lot of … people that work at the park district. One of the concerns I’ve been hearing is that we may be experiencing quite a bit of vacancies because not enough applicants are coming to apply for the summer jobs — or may be a bit uncomfortable leaving because of the unemployment checks, I’m gonna be honest with you, that people are receiving nowadays,” Sawyer said.
Alonzo Williams, chief programs officer for the Chicago Park District, told Sawyer his assessment was “correct,” particularly when it comes to lifeguards.
Along with a “national shortage” of lifeguards, for the last two years, the Park District has been unable to fill up to 250 lifeguard jobs through an After School Matters apprenticeship program.
“One of the things we’ve done as a district is not just let it be posted on our website. We’ve actually spent dollars this year in our marketing budget to advertise in local newspapers to push it out that way. As well as, we work with a lot of community-based organizations to create posters and fliers to send out to them,” Williams said.
“That’s just some of the things that we’ve tried to do this year to counter the shortage of staff members. But it is real. ... we have thousands of jobs and opportunities for people to make money.”
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said at least some of the vacant summer jobs might be filled if only young people were placed in jobs closer to their homes.
“Full disclaimer: Kids from my neighborhood aren’t gonna want to go to Hegewisch or Englewood. And I don’t think kids from Englewood or Hegewisch are gonna want to come to Dunning or Portage Park,” Sposato said.
Williams said the Park District tries to keep young people “as close to their homes as possible,” but sometimes staffing “needs to go where the demand is.”
Sposato countered: “16- or 17- or 18-year-old kids are not gonna want to have to travel 20 miles [for] a minimum-wage job to work 25 hours a week.”
As for other summer plans, Norman Kerr, acting deputy mayor for public safety, said the city will implement “a new coordinated approach” in Chicago’s “15 most violent police beats over the last three summers.”
Those beats are in five police districts: South Chicago, Gresham, Ogden, Harrison and Austin.
Under the plan, the city will, among other things: collaborate with community partners on how to address violence; analyze violence trends at the beat level to coordinate responses; and establish a weekly cadence for meetings in each area. But the key is “sustaining this work with high intensity throughout this summer,” Kerr said.
“CPD, for instance, is highlighting problem businesses that have hosted late-night parties and may contribute to violence,” Kerr added. “And [Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] is tapped with assisting to issue citations to those businesses to minimize the incidents.”
Community activist Jitu Brown from Journey for Justice urged aldermen to use the $1.9 billion avalanche of new federal funds on its way to Chicago and billions more earmarked for Chicago Public Schools to remedy historic inequities and reverse recent decisions that “laid the groundwork” for the spike in violence Chicago has experienced during the pandemic.
“Since the year 2000, over 50,000 Black students have been purged from Chicago Public Schools,” said Brown, who led the hunger strike to save Dyett High School.
“These children that are carjacking now are the children of privatization. They’re the children of school closings. They’re the children of inequity over the last 10 years.”
Tuesday’s session was a “subject matter” hearing, meaning no vote would be taken. As it dragged into its third hour, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) weighed in with resignation.
“No amount” of policing, street outreach or summer employment, Lopez argued, would replace the problem posed by parents who, as he put it, “need to get off their rear ends” and teach their children good values.