More than 50 people packed the aldermanic chamber at City Hall Wednesday as aldermen discussed ways to expand job opportunities for the city’s youth.
Chaired by Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12, the Board of Aldermen’s youth services committee heard youth and community advocates explain the importance of employment, which they said would would help young people stay out of crime, support their families and become self-sufficient and responsible. Together with older community members, 20 young New Haveners suggested ways to make more jobs available to youth and prepare young people for the job market.
After multiple people cited New Haven’s lack of jobs as a primary reason that people, particularly youth, begin selling drugs, Ward 30 Alderman Carlton Staggers expressed surprise at the consistency in all the testimonies. He asked whether working as a drug dealer was particularly lucrative.
“It’s better than not having money at all,” responded Tenaiya Baker, a junior at Hillhouse High School.
One student called work a “safe haven,” and multiple teenagers shared their experiences losing friends to crime that could be avoided if more jobs were available. One said he had personally seen innocent victims get shot on street corners by drug dealers and gang members.
Students expressed their desire to take on more responsibilities and learn about life in the “real world,” but said they struggled to find jobs in the city. One teenager, who holds jobs at Burger King and Best Buy, said the only reason he got those jobs was through personal connections at both stores.
“Seeing our parents struggling every day but still not being able to provide for us really makes us sad. We just want to step up and be able to help them, but we can’t, because there isn’t enough for us to do,” said a teenager.
One teenager suggested that the city hold job fairs downtown and give tax breaks to stores if they hire young people. Another argued that without job training programs, youth would almost never be able to get jobs.
Students also expressed doubt about whether they would be able to pay for college without jobs, and some noted that even college degrees are no longer enough to guarantee jobs in the current economy.
“Paying for college is also stressful even if I receive merit- and need-based aid, and the only barriers are the financial ones,” said Jazmine Vega, a high school student who has four siblings, adding that her family was worried they would not be able to afford to send them all to college.
Two Yale students, Drew Morrison ’14, a native of New Haven, and Gabriel Zucker ’12, a former director of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, also testified at the meeting. Morrison discussed the necessity of improving public transportation in the city so youth without access to cars could get to potential jobs, while Zucker emphasized the importance of making jobs available for students immediately after they graduate high school or college.
Suggestions of ways to induce job growth aired at the meeting included volunteer programs pairing college students with young kids in schools and financial incentives for businesses that hire youth.
Lisa Bergmann, a youth organizer from New Elm City Dream, a local youth group that promotes youth job creation, said aldermen should also look into methods of ensuring that people with criminal records could still get jobs and re-integrate themselves into society.
Eidelson said the Board will set another date to continue the discussion.
According to Connecticut Voices for Children, a research and advocacy group, 18.2 percent of job seekers between the ages of 16 and 24 were unemployed and 30.7 percent were underemployed in 2010.