Youth unemployment remains as high as 20% in some San Jose neighborhoods while a troublesome trend shows an increase in the number of younger youth (14 – 16 year old’s) committing burglaries and other crimes. The City’s gang- and crime-impacted neighborhoods fall short in opportunities for youth to be safe, engaged and productive over the summer months and gainful employment is a seemingly unreachable concept. A program that has long-targeted at-risk youth in these neighborhoods—The Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force—has long addressed the social, health and safety aspects confronted by at-risk youth and traditional youth employment programs have focused on the 18 and older group. An age-appropriate youth employment program for younger youth had not been attempted.
This summer, Mayor Liccardo helped launch SJ Youth Works, a five-week summer youth employment program for younger, at-risk youth recruited through the public and nonprofit agencies already supporting them. SJ Youth Works improves on an already-existing youth employment program with the priority of addressing the reality faced by, and the needs of younger, at-risk youth. The methodology is one that coordinates with the support services already available through public and private continuum-of-care agencies like the County government’s social services programs and probation department or non-profits like TeenForce and Unity Care. By exposing younger youth to well-supported employment experiences that are supplemented with case management, life-skills and financial literacy training, SJ Youth Works is creating pathways for these youth to envision a career while making some money. Youth employment programs, even for younger at-risk youth, have been shown to decrease the likelihood that the youth will become an offender and decrease recidivism rates for those that have.