To Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:
Congratulations on the fine job you are doing in leading our city.
Some months ago, I wrote you regarding the gathering storm that will loom over our city in the coming weeks: community concern regarding too few summer jobs for young persons in the summer of 2011. As you are aware, two seasons ago, with the help of stimulus money provided by the Obama administration, we were able to employ 7,000 to 9,000 young persons who applied for jobs with the YouthWorks Summer Jobs program run by the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. So far this year, it looks as if the city will place 5,000 youths despite the fact that over 6,000 have applied successfully. The MOED application process, we are told, weeds out lots of would-be eligible youths with strict demands and stringent deadlines. A City Council hearing is being scheduled soon to look at this.
I know you are aware how important summer jobs are to young persons and their families. For many of them, the $1,000 or so earned over the six weeks of summer employment is financial assistance to their households. To some, summer earnings mean purchases of school clothes at the end of summer that will factor into the timing of their return to school in the fall.
I'm sure that, from a public safety standpoint, the more teenagers we can keep busy during out-of-school hours, the fewer victims and victimizers there will be in Baltimore this summer. I'm sure you, like I, believe "the devil makes work for idle hands." We have a moral imperative as a city to re-orient budget priorities and fund more summer jobs for youth.
Too often, we are told there is no money, the budget is set — essentially, there is a different set of priorities. As co-chair of your Transition Committee for Youth Resources and Education, I stand behind our recommendation then that our city's youth become the city's first priority. There is no way we will have a strong future for our city if we do not take care of our young people now. I know you know that. I also know you will find a way to increase the number of youth jobs this summer as you found a way to keep swimming pools open longer during last summer's hottest temperatures in Baltimore history.
Ideally and morally, every youth in Baltimore City who wants a job should have one. What better way to say to young Baltimoreans, "You really matter to us," than by moving the mountains necessary to make a Baltimore City where the young people are the priority. We would like to see 9,000 youths employed under the auspices of the YouthWorks Summer Jobs program this year. We know that will take an additional $4 million to $5 million, but the Full Employment Baltimore coalition feels that although some things in our budget may appear more important, few items in the budget would do more for the public good and for the uplift of young Baltimoreans themselves.
I ask that we have a conversation about summer jobs and what we can do to increase their number. I ask that we take the remaining weeks of budget deliberations to discuss how we can get to the 9,000 jobs we need to employ Baltimore's youth this summer of 2011. Are corporations doing all they can to help? Have they all been asked? Can foundations do more? Are there additional philanthropic individuals who can be approached? Have the Orioles, the Ravens and the Blast been approached to provide jobs or funds? Has every hospital provided a slot for one young person? Every funeral home, every supermarket, every city agency?
We believe we have to redirect our course if we are to navigate safe waters for Baltimore's future — not with guns, not with jails, not with limiting services to our young. Black unemployment for youth in Baltimore and other cities is at Great Depression levels. We know these have been difficult economic times. Your leadership in remembering the importance of our youth and your positive view of their futures will continue to make a very strong statement. Summer jobs for all youth who desire them should be the next goal. It is not too late to make that happen. I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.
Ralph E. Moore Jr. is convener of the Full Employment Baltimore Coalition and director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.