Baltimore Wrestles with Stubborn Unemployment among its Young People


Nearly one-third of job-hunting teenagers and young adults in Baltimore can’t find work, according to the latest government unemployment data.

Nobody has to tell Baltimore’s young job seekers how tough it is.

Aaron Smith, 21, of East Baltimore, has been looking for roughly six months without success. “I got a couple of interviews but haven’t gotten any call backs,” he told the AFRO last week.

Larry Davis, 19, of Baltimore, had a job in a local factory but was laid off six months ago and is still looking for work.

They are among the thousands of local people between the ages of 16 and 24 who, according to workforce experts, are the targets of the city’s Youth Opportunity Baltimore (YO) program and the jobs initiative unveiled by Gov. Martin O’Malley Feb. 8.

Kerry R. Owings, Sr., the program’s manager, said YO Baltimore has lots of facets. “It’s about dealing with young people in a holistic manner. Our advocates could be called navigators. They help young people navigate through times in their lives.” he said.

O’Malley introduced a measure to use $2.5 million this fiscal year for an effort called the Employment Advancement Now Initiative, aimed at encouraging regional training collaborations among businesses, nonprofits, colleges and local governments, according to Delmarvanow.com. The initiative would focus on industries such as traditional and advanced manufacturing, cyber security and health care.

That program could provide a welcome boost to YO Baltimore, according to Karen Sitnick, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake’s director of Office of Employment Development.

“We look forward to accessing these funds to help us develop strong, industry-driven training opportunities designed to assist Baltimore citizens, particularly those most in need, to acquire the skills demanded by our high-growth regional employers,” she said in a Feb. 8 statement to the AFRO.

But workforce experts say they are fighting an uphill battle.

Jobless young people “are veering toward chronic unemployment as adults and failing to gain the skills employers need in the 21st century,” according to KIDS COUNT, a report release last year by the Anne E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit advocacy organization focused on aiding the disadvantaged.

Labor Department data released Feb. 8 show a downward trend in unemployment benefit claims and a rise in job creation in 16 states. But Maryland remains at 6.6 percent unemployment, and 31 percent of job seekers in the state between 20 and 24 years old are without work.

Even more dismal are the national youth unemployment numbers, according to the KIDS COUNT report, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data from 2011. Those numbers show the lowest level of youth employment since World War II, with only about half of the young people between the ages of 16 to 24 having jobs in 2011.

“Among the teens in that group, only 25 percent is now employed, compared to 46 percent in 2000,” the Casey Foundation found.

The report concluded that 70 percent of Maryland’s 16 to 19 year-olds are unemployed and labeled them part of the nation's "disconnected youth.”

“Overall, 6.5 million people ages 16 to 24 are both out of school and out of work, statistics that suggest dire consequences for financial stability and employment prospects in that population,” the report concluded.

Twenty-year-old Rashad Colyns of Baltimore has been struggling with the reality of being unemployed. Asked why he hasn’t been successful in his search for a job, he said, “Because it’s hard for us Black people to get a job anyway.” Although he’s unemployed, Rashad plans to go back to school as he continues his job search.

Davis said age was a factor in his inability to find work. “Employers are hiring too many older people, making it harder for younger people without certain experience, who need jobs.”

YO Baltimore is attacking the problem with job training that stresses education. The program is using 400 social workers who counsel an estimated 5,000 youngsters between 14 and 22 years of age each year. The program is 13 years old.

In addition to workplace skills training, the program also helps its young clients prepare for job interviews.

Narell Mitchell, 18, one of the YO Baltimore participants, is currently in training to acquire her GED and hopes to become a certified nursing assistant, applauded the program.

“They see so much potential in you so they’re not going to leave you hanging, they’re going to keep helping you, they want to see the progress, and so they help you while you help yourself,” she said. “And once I get my GED I’m going to continue on with the program because the real world can be hard to take on.”

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Baltimore Wrestles with Stubborn Unemployment among its Young People

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