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Kids Ready For Jobs

May 22, 2005
Commentary By Helen Ubiñas

In case anyone's unsure of what kids in Hartford want this summer, I conducted an informal survey the other day.

"Jobs," said Benjamin Velasquez.

"Yeah, a job," said Moises Serrano.

Ditto from their friends Tarik Thomas and Joshua Padua, all 14-year-olds who were slowly making their way down Asylum Street to Quirk Middle School Friday morning.

From across the street, a guy who spotted my notebook yelled over, "Hey miss, you giving out jobs?" At 27, Jose Morales was past the eligibility age for my survey, but his outburst was telling.

Demand for employment far outweighs supply in this city - among the young, especially.

Summer doesn't start for another month, but already more than 650 Hartford kids are on the waiting list at Capital Workforce Partners, the city's main summer jobs program. That's more than 650 kids who probably won't have anything to occupy them this summer - and the number will grow if Capital doesn't get the funding it's hoping for.

Tom Phillips, president of Capital, saw concern, and some dollars, increase during the latest rash of violence in the city. But as anyone who's been around these parts long enough knows, that attention is fleeting.

If the city approves the allocation currently in the budget, that's $1 million - $300,000 more than last year. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, a longtime supporter, is in for another $300,000. And if all goes well and budget negotiations don't break down, Capital can count on $250,000 from the state under a distressed city program.

Which leaves private companies. So far, they've kicked in a less-than-whopping $33,000 - an amount that hasn't increased over the years, even though the demand for summer jobs has. This year, Capital received more than 1,700 applications - up from about 1,300 last year.

Of course, many companies help city kids in other ways, Phillips said. And given the economic and job picture overall, he's not complaining. So I will.

It's easy to turn the page on another newspaper story about another shooting in Hartford, easy to ask the guy at the next desk, "What the hell's wrong with those kids?" We all do that. It's not that much harder to do something about it, but too few of us bother.

It costs a company about $1,000 to pay a kid's wages for a six-week, 20-hour-a-week job. Companies that don't have a place for a young worker can make a contribution to fund a job elsewhere.

A thousand bucks, people - that isn't going to break any company's bank. Think of it as the price of corporate citizenship in a needy city.

This year, the Workforce saw a surge in applications from 14- and 15-year-olds. That's exactly the age of kids in crisis in this city. Phillips wasn't sure of the reason for the spike in that age group. But Nakeesha Thompson, a 15-year-old who told me she was "between schools" when I bumped into her outside Burger King on Farmington Avenue, sure was.

"We want money, we want something to do," she said.

The alternative can be trouble. Teens working with the Institute for Community Research say that three factors make their peers more likely to "hustle" illicit goods like drugs and bootleg CDs: peer pressure, family stress and limited employment opportunities.

The folks at Capital could still push the state for more cash. And they're still shaking the trees at private companies. But if they're going to employ all the kids who applied for jobs, they still need another $900,000 or so.

Not a huge price tag when you think about it.

"It's economics," Phillips said. "These kids aren't just the city's future, but the city's future workforce."

And that workforce is ready to work.

"I'd start right now if I could," said Thompson.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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