Tight economy puts squeeze on summer youth jobs

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Summertime employment for many young people is oftentimes their first exposure to a professional work environment. However, the current economic climate might be creating the toughest summer in some time for high school youngsters to secure jobs, especially when so many older persons are also looking for work.

“It is not just a job, but a learning experience,” notes West Broadway Business and Area Coalition Director Sarita Turner of summer youth work. Turner’s Northside-based organization is actively seeking businesses to provide not only summer employment for youth, but also mentoring “to ensure that they are not just flipping burgers, wiping tables or empting wastebaskets, but actually learning about aspects of the business,” she adds.

“I really believe that mentoring a young person is terribly valuable and can be life-changing [not only] for that student, but also for that student’s mentor,” says Christine Levens of the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. “I think that the business community really needs to take an interest in doing these sort of programs to build up our future work force.”

Young people must be “involved in growing and revitalized the community,” believes Turner.

“I think the opportunity to work in their own community adds a real strong value, for them to see that there are businesses here that want to invest in them and spend time in developing our young work force.”

The Pohlad Foundation has partnered with the two aforementioned organizations to line up small businesses that can provide North Minneapolis youth ages 14 to 21 with six-to-10-week summer jobs beginning in June. Both are also working with the City of Minneapolis’ Step-Up summer job program.

Over 600 applicants from the North Side are among the 3,288 young people citywide who have applied to Step-Up, a City-funded program that provides summertime jobs paying at least minimum wage up to $7.25 an hour. Almost 80 percent of the participants are students of color. It is a selective program for which each applicant must complete a workforce readiness training program that includes mock interviews.

In past summers, Step-Up has placed student workers in banks, hospitals, arts organizations, colleges, law firms and city agencies. Students usually begin work no later than June 15, or earlier if their supervisor requests it.

Their goal is to provide 1,300 jobs this summer. Thus far, 1,250 jobs are ready to go, according to Step-Up spokeswoman Tammy Dickinson. She adds that among the 3,288 applications in this year’s pool, 1,709 of them came from Black students.

“These kids need a job,” says Turner of the Northside young people. “Many of them come from families that are economically disadvantaged. They experience on a daily basis the disinvestment that has occurred in North Minneapolis. We have not served them well in terms of maintaining the community.”

Even with the Pohlad Foundation’s assistance, which includes paying up to 75 percent or a maximum of $1,200 for each youth worker hired, finding enough small businesses to commit has not been easy.

“Despite the wage subsidy, we’re finding with the economic challenges there is a little bit of resistance,” Levens says, adding that her organization thus far has reached nearly half of their goal of signing up 25 businesses. “I am really hoping to reach 20 within the next 30 days or so.”

Turner says around 14 businesses have signed up with the Coalition, whose goal is to secure commitments from at least 20 businesses. “The time to invest in actually supervising and creating a learning opportunity seems to be more of a challenge,” she points out.

Turner proudly points out that even though it is considered the city’s most financially challenged area, the North Side is nevertheless not a lost cause. The longtime Northsider says, “This is my neighborhood. I grew up here. I used to walk from home to my uncle’s house, and we stopped at Woolworth’s on West Broadway. During the holiday season, [the street] was decorated, and it was a safe and clean place. I know it can be that because I’ve seen it be that.

“I am very defensive about North Minneapolis,” she says. “I am very passionate about the community.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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