I have long advocated for the creation of a major summer jobs program that would employ teenagers throughout Miami-Dade County. The community, local government and local businesses, should work together towards a common goal of placing any teen who wants to work in a job. To me, it’s a no-brainer – let’s get our kids working!
Thankfully, my colleagues feel the same. On March 3, 2015, the Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to apply for and receive $2.5 million in grant funds from the Children’s Trust and identify matching funds within the county budget. Thirteen hundred students (100 in each district) will now have the opportunity to earn an income and gain valuable experience. The grant from the Children’s Trust Youth Enrichment program is earmarked for high school students in “underserved communities with high need and a lack of foundational resources that support healthy development, learning and opportunity.”
The importance of this commitment cannot be understated: No one method is more effective at steering teens away from crime and on track to economic stability than a summer jobs program.
Chris Norwood, a local youth development advocate, brought to my attention a December 2014 article entitled “Chicago gave hundreds of high-risk kids a summer job; Violent crime arrests plummeted”. He highlighted that the impact of placing teenagers in summer jobs is not only apparent but significant. The University of Chicago study cited in the article concluded that the students who participated in the program had 43% fewer violent-crime arrests over 16 months compared to students who did not participate in the part-time jobs program.
Crime rates among teens in Miami-Dade are not insignificant. In the last year alone, over 3,861 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 were arrested in the county. An additional 1,398 first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders received civil citations.
The glaring income gap in Miami-Dade has once again given us the unfortunate distinction of ranking in the Brookings Institute’s list of the top five most economically- lopsided cities. The result of this disparity is that a small percentage of our youth has privileged access to internships, often unpaid, that give students a leg up as they enter into the workforce. A large majority of our teens don’t even know where to begin looking for these opportunities and simply can’t afford to work without a paycheck. It’s our responsibility as shepherds of the local economy to give all teenagers equal access to opportunity and financial independence. To quote Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava, “there is nothing more critical to ending poverty in this community than putting our young people on the right path.”
As we prepare to launch the county’s summer jobs program, we will have to ensure that the program is well-structured, with professional development and financial literacy training. Most importantly, there should be a strong mentorship component. Teens should be placed in public and private jobs that teach new skills and get them on track to life-long careers in emerging industries.
This past fiscal year, commissioners were allocated an additional $70,000 to their office budgets which I used to create a micro-program, Building Futures, to place recent high school and GED graduates in paid summer internships across District 7 and the county. We have been able to launch this program on a limited budget thanks to partnerships with The Collaborative, Miami-Dade College and local businesses.
Now that we have identified $5 million in funds, the problem is no longer a budgetary one, but rather one of community participation. The county will absorb many of these jobs, but we cannot do it alone. In order for this program to succeed, socially-responsible companies that are motivated to enrich our community one student at a time, need to volunteer to take on and mentor an intern.
Contact your commissioner today to join the effort. Commissioner Suarez can be reached at 305-446-3311 or via email at email@example.com.