With a shortfall in federal funding and the prospect of MBTA service cuts, youth job opportunities are looking bleak. That’s why more than 1,200 students from in and around Boston gathered downtown last Thursday to march with the Youth Jobs Coalition, a Dorchester-based organization that advocates for state-wide youth employment.
On Tremont Street, a mass of students and some parents held signs that protested the T cuts and demanded more jobs. They marched to the Financial District and then to the statehouse to ask for jobs from companies with more than 100 employees and for an increase in youth employment funding. Coalition members passed out flyers that stated only 14 percent of 590 companies in Boston have hired youth.
According to a report by the coalition, the City of Boston provides $4.1 million in budget funds for youth jobs, and last year, the state provided $11.75 million. But the federal government ended job funding in 2010. And since 2000, the state’s teen summer employment rate has fallen from an average of 62 percent of teens holding a job to 39 percent in 2011.
Slashes in funding means fewer summer and year-around jobs, and this can lead to more violence and turmoil in the neighborhoods. On the stage of the Converse Auditorium, students took turns to share what the impact would be on their families and communities.
“Without youth jobs, kids will commit crimes, sell drugs and do all those negative things,” said Jena Marie Figueroa, a ninth grade student at O’Bryant High School who lives in Dorchester. “Youth jobs will keep them occupied.”
Figueroa worked in an office last summer at Action for Boston Community Development, an antipoverty agency that has supplied many of the students in attendance with summer jobs.
Many of them also noted that the skills gained through employment and the ability to help support their families has given them a sense of empowerment. An organizer with the youth coalition and 11th grade student at the Kennedy Academy, Isaiah Wilkerson, said employed students come away with skills to build their resumes.
“We want to get every teen a job for summer and for year around. It’s going to make a big difference because they become equipped with the necessary skills to build their resumes,” he said.
The rally also brought up the proposed MBTA fare hikes that are seen as a major threat to youth employment. Katherine Castillo, a student at Snowden International High School who lives in Franklin Fields, said that public schools may no longer provide bus passes. A student T pass is slated to double in cost at $40.
“BPS [Boston Public Schools] doesn’t have much money, so either they’re further in debt or we’re going to have to pay for it. We can’t afford that,” Castillo said.
Mayor Thomas Menino and his administration have consistently backed youth jobs. A number of public officials, including Dorchester State Representative Marty Walsh, were also in attendance and spoke in support at the rally.
Walsh told the crowd, “You need to stay in school, and you need to show up on time, because five years from now, you need to be up on this stage.”