A pandemic-era rise in youth joblessness and disconnection hit young Black women in Chicago especially hard, almost doubling their unemployment rate, according to a new report from the University of Illinois Chicago.

According to the study, about 45,800 16- to 24-year-olds were not in school, college, or the workforce in Chicago. Across the state, 177,000 were out of work and out of school in 2021.

Matthew Wilson, an associate director at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois and one of the report’s authors, said the increase in the jobless rate for Black women aged 20 to 24 — from 32% in 2019 to almost 60% in 2021 — was the study’s most staggering finding.

“As conditions continued getting better for other people, they continued to get a lot worse for young Black women,” Wilson said.

Chicago and Illinois have also been much slower to recover from a spike in youth unemployment than the country as a whole, and they have seen racial disparities in jobless rates widen more, the report found. Even as employment rates for young whites and Latinos in Chicago and statewide have bounced back, they have worsened for Black youth.

The report was commissioned by the nonprofit Alternative Schools Network to help make the case for a bill to launch a $300 million statewide youth jobs program introduced in the Illinois Legislature this year. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kam Buckner and state Sen. Robert Peters, both Chicago Democrats, would enlist community-based organizations across the state to help coordinate jobs for as many as 80,000 teens and young adults.

The issue of youth who are not in school, college, or the workforce has long bedeviled Chicago and other cities, despite research tying the problem to persistent poverty and violence rates. City leaders have argued that finding solutions is key to combating a rise in gun violence, and Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has set a goal of doubling the number of youth summer jobs.

Chicago likely fared worse than the country as a whole because it’s a segregated urban area with ingrained uneven access to job opportunities, said Wilson.

“Chicago is an extreme site of those types of inequities,” he said. “It has more areas of concentrated disadvantage than the nation as a whole.”

Chicago has a youth summer jobs program, One Summer Chicago, which lined up jobs for 20,300 youth in 2022, according to city data.

Organizers from the Alternative Schools Network are staging a Thursday press conference in downtown Chicago to share the report’s findings and push for the youth jobs bill. They planned to display a coffin to symbolize the gun deaths of youth on the city’s West Side and have a plane flying overhead with a banner reading “Jobs Stop Bullets.”

For young people, disconnection from school and work has been shown to adversely affect health, relationships, and odds of experiencing violence and incarceration.

Read the full article about youth unemployment by Mila Koumpilova at Chalkbeat.