Lightfoot unveils upgrades to summer jobs program, Youth Service Corps

All summer jobs earmarked for young people ages 14 to 24 will pay the city’s minimum wage: $15 an hour. That’s up to $1,800 extra in the pockets of young people whose families need it most.

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Chicago City Hall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday after the pandemic cast a pall over the past two summers, she’s determined that this year will be a “summer of joy” for the city’s youth.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday unveiled what she called a $150 million “bounty of opportunities” to pay, occupy and educate Chicago’s youth and prevent the traditional summer surge of violence.

After a pandemic that closed schools, isolated young people from their friends and “fragmented or outright canceled in-school and out-of-school activities,” Lightfoot said she is determined to make this a “summer of joy” for young people.

Toward that end, Chicago’s annual summer jobs program will operate in-person — not virtually — with “no capacity limits.”

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The program has also been enhanced in a variety of ways, starting with the pay.

All summer jobs earmarked for people ages 14 to 24 will pay the city minimum wage: $15 an hour. That’s up to $1,800 extra in the pockets of young people whose families need it most.

“Making sure that our young people are paid the minimum wages is fair. It’s equitable. And it’s a big deal for them and their families,” Lightfoot said during a news conference at the Foster Park fieldhouse, 1440 W. 84th St.

“Teens and young adults can put this money toward their household expenses, college expenses and helping them along their way to success. We know that many of our teens, particularly given the hardships the families have endured over these last two years ... are directly responsible for bringing in income to put food on their family’s tables, help with the expenses. This money will help with that, as well.”

Another upgrade: A career coach will be assigned to young people holding summer jobs to “reinforce basic skills” like showing up on time and working hard.

And, for the first time, to prioritize youth facing “special challenges” in applying for summer jobs, City Hall will mount what Lightfoot called an “aggressive outreach campaign” to reach them and their families.

“Youth and families that are less connected to our schools, parks and libraries are less likely to know about and have the time to walk through all the steps it takes to complete an application. We do not want that to be a barrier,” the mayor said.

Whether they’re in the criminal justice system, or foster care, or disabled, Lightfoot said, “we want to make sure that the digital divide and other barriers don’t prevent these … kids that are most in need from getting a good job this summer.”

Finally, Lightfoot announced a $29.3 million investment will allow the Summer Youth Service Corps to expand from summer-only to year-round. The program was created during the pandemic to give 16-to-24-year-olds paid opportunities to help their local communities.

“In Little Village, they made and distributed masks. In Austin, they created a podcast to reach residents and share information about COVID,” the mayor said.

“This signature civic engagement program is now expanding to provide youth with a year of community service opportunity that strengthens their neighborhoods.”

Applications for the summer jobs program are now open at OneSummerChicago.org. Applications for the Chicago Youth Services Corps are available at CYSC.MyChiMyFuture.org.

“The bottom line is this: We want our young people to literally have tens of thousands of opportunities throughout the summer, most of them paying, so they can earn a little cash, enhance their skill set and be actively engaged following their passions,” the mayor said.

“Meaningful connections, opportunity and violence prevention strategies are all intertwined. We have to be consistently and positively present in the lives of our children and our young people.”

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