More than 1,000 students took to the Boston streets, neon posters in hand, to rally for increased youth job funding last Thursday.
Teens from across the city and state were brought together by local group Youth Jobs Coalition (YJC) to take advantage of their February vacation and march past the Massachusetts State House advocating for lawmakers to endorse a summer jobs program for 2015 that could cost up to $24.5 million.
Founded in 2009, YJC is a partnership of 40 Massachusetts-based youth and community groups that work together in hopes of creating more, and better, employment opportunities for teens. This jobs rally, which is held each February, is just one of the various campaigns and efforts that YJC hosts in attempts to further its goal of “building youth power, winning youth jobs.”
“Over the past four to five years, we have been able to win over $50 million back to the youth’s work budget,” said community organizer at the Youth Jobs Coalition Dylan Lazerow, who works with teens to encourage their inclusion in the employment world.
“Youth need jobs many times to support their families, but really to support themselves,” he said. “Many of our participants are well on their way to being on their own, and we see employment as a really important part of being a dignified member of society.”
YJC not only works to create jobs for teens, but teens also work for YJC. Many members of the group’s leadership are currently enrolled in Boston public schools or were in high school when they became involved in YJC. Acting as speakers at rallies, meeting with politicians, and reaching out to the community, teens at YJC hold essential positions for the same reasons that the group looks to increase teen employment. “The issue here is teen jobs, so we think that it is most important to be organizing with the constituency that is facing the problem that we are trying to address,” Lazerow said.
The opportunities YJC now works to encourage were few and far between at its outset due to the recent economic recession. Funding by the state for jobs in the summer of 2010 was expected to result in a loss of 2,700 youth jobs-equivalent to a 50 percent decrease. Then, with only half of today’s amount of coalition members, YJC was able to mobilize 1,000 local teens to rally and establish relationships with local government that resulted in successfully saving all of the youth jobs funded by Boston and Massachusetts for that summer.
“We are unpaid lobbyists and frequently see those paid lobbyists having to face cuts in their line items-the fact that we have been able to have these wins is huge,” Lazerow said.
After achieving more success throughout 2011, such as winning $9 million in youth jobs funding, YJC looked to the private sector as its next step.
Through creative action and meetings with hospital executives as well as corporate leaders, the group was able to win over 30 new private sector jobs and continues to work in order to increase their funding.
“There are so many benefits to hiring teens,” Lazerow said. “We are talking about tomorrow’s leaders, presidents, CEOs, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers-all of these young people are really an investment in the future.” In addition to the future benefits of youth working, YJC emphasizes that young people can add creative perspective and innovative energy to regular workplace settings.
Beyond the benefits to companies from teens working, YJC hopes that increased funding in youth working programs will work to bring equilibrium to the state’s economic inequality. According to studies conducted by The Brookings Institution, published coincidentally on the same day as YJC’s recent rally, Boston is one of the U.S. cities with the largest income gaps and economic disparities. Lazerow and the majority of YJC believes that increased funding for youth jobs could work to decrease this disproportion and prove beneficial for the city’s public health.
Currently YJC has teens working at many locations, including companies like State Street, Fidelity Investments, and even some local hospitals, but over the next few years they hope to see a progression in scope. “I would love to see teens working all over the place-especially other trades that are solid in terms of salary and benefits,” Lazerow said. “There is a lot of room for teens to get involved anywhere.”
YJC hopes to expand its mission both by following up with the legislative process in the spring, and after the successful response by the public and the media surrounding its February rally, the organization is considering a national campaign.
“It is exciting that young people are organizing around this issue that is so close to their hearts and to see people take notice of this action that is happening,” Lazerow said. “This effort seems to just be really great, and we are hopeful to continue connecting with as many new partners and allies as possible.”