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Report: Illinois Jobs for Teens Hard to Come By

January 21, 2014

CHICAGO - As in the rest of the U.S., the teen employment rate in Illinois dropped to 27 percent in 2012, reversing progress made over the past decade. According to research prepared for the Alternative Schools Network, black teenagers are faring worse, with only 12 percent finding jobs.

Despite the bleak numbers, the network's executive director in Chicago, Jack Wuest, said state leaders are making it clear that they support programs that employ young people.

"The governor and the Legislature last year allocated nearly $30 million for summer youth employment, and we're hoping that can be increased," he stated. "And so they're stepping up and replacing funds that were lost in the federal government."

The 2011 federal Recovery Act funds were made available for summer employment, but Wuest said there is limited additional funding to deal with the shortfall of youth jobs. The report recommends that local and state leaders pursue legislation that will provide the additional funds needed to create summer and year-round employment opportunities for teens and young adults across Illinois.

According to the report, the prolonged and substantial loss of work experience and work exposure not only affects the economy, but also has long-term societal impact. Wuest pointed out that young adults can learn critical life skills and information on the job.

Those include "showing up on time, learning to follow instructions, doing some creative kinds of work," he said. "This kind of activity that young people do when they're holding a job teaches them skills that without which they're going to be much more difficult for them to find jobs as an adult."

At the national level, the report recommends the Pathways Back to Work Act be revived. It would create funding for employment opportunities for low-income youth, a competitive grant program for work-based training and education programs, and subsidized employment programs for unemployed, low-income adults.

The report, "The Persistent Depression in the Teen Labor Market in Illinois in Recent Years," is available online at tinyurl.com/mzfbjk3.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL