Chicago’s summer jobs program to employ 30,000 youth virtually – Chicago Sun-Times - Freelance Rack

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Chicago’s summer jobs program to employ 30,000 youth virtually – Chicago Sun-Times

Roughly 30,000 teenagers and young adults will spend at least part of the summer working virtually for the city and other government agencies under a massive summer jobs program in flux because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are waiting to see if we will be having a six-week virtual program or a hybrid, four-week virtual, two weeks in-person [program] with social distancing,” Lisa Davis, director of One Summer Chicago, told the City Council’s Budget Committee Wednesday.

To work virtually, participants will need computers or tablets, Davis said. She noted 80% of summer jobs traditionally go to students at Chicago Public Schools, which has distributed more than 100,000 devices to promote remote learning while schools are closed to in-classroom instruction.

“We are anticipating that schools will continue to allow youth to have their devices for the summer. And we are currently looking for funding and adjusting our budget to provide devices for the other participants in need,” she said.

With 34,442 completed applications already in hand and no deadline to apply, City Hall still has no definitive idea how many jobs will be available, let alone what exactly the youth will be doing virtually.

“Our target for this summer before the pandemic was 30,000-plus. With the pandemic, we are trying to keep that number stable. But there is a possibility that the number will come down due to the pandemic,” Davis said.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel created One Summer Chicago to fill the giant void created by the federal government’s retreat from providing summer jobs to keep inner-city youth constructively occupied and gainfully employed during the summer months.

Last year, the city got 60,000 applications and placed 31,500 applicants between the ages of 14 and 24 in jobs at the city and other agencies of local government, along with private companies, community organizations, After School Matters and Lincoln Park Zoo.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th) suggested that some of the young people be put to work on an outreach tied to boosting participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. She noted that there are “some neighborhoods that are still really lacking in Census outreach and people not completing the forms and it’s hard to get out because of the COVID thing.”

Davis replied, “We are meeting…with various organizations to see about the youth reaching out with the Census via phone using robocalls so no numbers are exchanged or exposed.”

Budget Committee Chairman Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) suggested using some of the young adults to do contact tracing. The painstaking work of tracking down everyone with whom someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus has been in contact can be done over the phone, she said.

“Have you thought about that in terms of finding things for these young people to do?” Dowell said.

Davis said she had not considered that possibility, but promised to share the “excellent idea” with other program officials.

The hazy nature of the summer jobs debate troubled Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).

“I don’t know exactly what 30,000 youths working virtually is going to look in Chicago during the summer. Unless we are just, quite honestly, paying the youth to stay home and inside,” said Lopez, one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics.

“What we don’t want to see is 30,000 youth not being able to be productive in their communities in some fashion while being able to make money for themselves and their families. But there’s too many open- ended questions. This…hasn’t been fully cooked.”

The summer jobs debate was triggered by a $780,000 grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. The money will be used to support 289 of the virtual summer jobs and to integrate “financial empowerment and banking access” into the summer program.

Also Wednesday, the Budget Committee approved Dowell’s choice of Ken Williams to serve as the $111,144-a-year director of the City Council’s Office of Financial Analysis.

Williams told aldermen who applauded his appointment that he looks forward to providing “independent analysis, reports and recommendations” and hopes to “rebrand and re-define COFA as your go-to resource for financing and budgeting needs.”

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