Herbert Dyer, Jr.

According to a just released report by the Chicago Urban League, unemployment for black male teens in Chicago has reached not quite 100 percent.

The actual number is 92 percent, as reported by MyFoxChicago. Looked at from the other end, of course, this means that only 8 percent of all black male youth in Chicago have a job, any kind of job.

The Urban League blames the paucity of jobs in the city on two basic and inter-related factors:

  1. Traditional “adult” jobs in light-to-heavy industrial plants and factories have long been outsourced to cheaper and non-union labor markets mainly in the South and Southwest (“right-to-work” states) or out of the country altogether to Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, etc., where workers are paid from a few pennies to a very few dollars per day -- and where there are also no pesky unions, work safety rules, child labor laws, etc., ad infinitum.
  2. Adults are now taking the once "traditional" jobs that were available mainly to teens (fast food workers, “entry-level” retail jobs – Walmart, Target, i.e., -- washing cars, delivery jobs, even paper routes, etc.).

The Urban League study indicates that 17 percent of black males between the ages of 16 and 19 had jobs throughout the US. But, in Illinois, that number was only 12 percent. And, as stated, the Windy City clocks in with only 8 percent of black male teens with jobs.

Obviously this is a major economic crisis -- an emergency -- for Chicago. And, as any college sophomore sociology or political science student will tell you, high rates of joblessness correspond and track directly, almost seamlessly as a major – if not the major – factor in high rates of violence in this or any other city.

“We do the studies because I don’t think most people realize how bad the problem is and understand why this should be a priority issue. They think, 'Oh, summer jobs for kids. That’s a nice thing.' It’s not a 'nice thing.' It’s a required thing,” President of the Chicago Urban League Andrea Zopp, reported dnainfo.com/chicago.

Diane Latiker works with the city of Chicago to help teens find jobs. She says that we must begin thinking of young people as “investments” for all of our futures.

“Nothing is being invested to give those young people whose jobs are being taken, nothing is being done to create jobs for them,” Latiker said.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a finance professor at Syracuse University. He allows that direct government assistance in a variety of forms must be proffered to parents in order to get teens involved and prepared for work -- but not just any kind of work. As quoted in kulturekritic.com:

“Black teens, especially males, are the most neglected group of people in America,” says Dr. Watkins. “If they were white, this would be recognized as the crisis that it is. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and nothing good happens when we condemn our sons to sit around with nothing to do.”

Watkins appreciates that those “traditional” jobs lost to Mississippi and to China are not coming back. And, Chicago's now traditional “service economy” jobs have been virtually monopolized by these kids' very own parents, older siblings, uncles and aunts.

Instead, Watkins advises parents to encourage their children to join programs that will train and develop their entrepreneurial skills and talents so they may create their own jobs, businesses and other economic opportunities.

Watkins also is a believer in the old adage that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Black people in Chicago and elsewhere must speak up, must make our demands clear and unequivocal:

“If you say nothing in politics,” says Watkins, “you get nothing. The people in Washington won’t care about what happens to your child if you don’t make them. Secondly, black people must learn to create their own jobs, that’s the only way to a brighter economic future.”


The Internet and “information technologies” are great places to start. The World Wide Web has opened whole new vistas for all kinds of entrepreneurial efforts.

The problem is that an inordinate number of black people in Chicago (and other major cities) still suffer from the so-called “digital divide.” That is, blacks are far less likely to have a computer with Internet access in the home than any other group of people.

This is where government can and must step in to help immediately. The city, together with state and federal monies, can and must :

  1. Provide laptop computers to all junior high (“middle” school) kids and up in Chicago.
  2. Using its constitutionally (Illinois) sanctioned "home rule" powers, the city of Chicago can and must impose price controls on Internet providers so that access is treated as any other essential utility which cannot be “disconnected” for nonpayment. In other words, yes, socialize Internet access so that it is available free of charge or at nominal cost on a sliding scale to anyone – anyone.

These two simple propositions would allow teens to connect (network) with each other and small and large businesses and industries whether next door or worldwide. This would allow for instant exchange of ideas and resources, and therefore for product development, project management, inventions, creative pursuits -- all manner of entrepreneurial skills.

As Watkins says, this use of the new technologies would give black kids something constructive (and profitable) to do beyond standing on street corners “slinging” dope and killing and maiming each other over “territory” that none of them own.

What the good professor is pointing to is the difference between parents who constantly buy their kids fully formed model airplanes (just add batteries) versus parents who buy their kids model airplane kits.