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Creating Opportunity for San Diego's Southeastern Teens

As Published in the San Diego Daily Transcript; April 16, 2009

Steve Francis

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This summer could be one of the worst ever for San Diego youth looking to gain invaluable work experience. As San Diego’s business leaders, we have an imperative not to let that happen.

When it comes to youth employment, the statistics are, in a word, terrifying.

San Diego County is home to 240,000 young people between the ages 15 to 19.

Nationwide unemployment among those age 17 to 19 stands at 21.7%. It is even higher among Latino youth (24.9%) and African-Americans (32.5%). With continued deterioration in the local job market likely, if we don’t take action thousands of our young people will find it impossible to gain any meaningful work experience this summer.

But statistics don’t tell the whole story. Consider Eugene, a bright young African-American man from Encanto who has been struggling recently to find a job. The 17-year old dutifully helps his mother, volunteers in his community, and receives good grades at his local high school, but in his neighborhood, there are few avenues of meaningful entry-level employment. This is unacceptable, and it has to change.

The economy makes this one of the worst times to ask businesses to do more. Our first responsibility is to our customers and our employees to try to weather the downturn.
Many San Diego businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and just to make payroll and don’t have enough work for their permanent workforce, much less seasonal employees.

But if we get creative, there are things we can do. Unpaid internships can offer young people an opportunity to gain valuable experience and hone workplace skills. Job shadowing, even if just for a few days, can make a profound difference, helping young people learn about different careers and professions.

Local government can play a role. Scores of cities throughout the country are finding synergies between some federal stimulus spending and the bully pulpit afforded to their Mayors to help get youth into summer jobs.

Consider Pittsburgh. This month Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he would be investing $1.5 million of the stimulus money in that City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. The City would hire up to 500 youth to carry out tasks like cleaning up litter and planting flowers. He also would be investing in efforts of non-profits to link youth to private sector internships and shadowing program.

Others examples can be found in the City of Baltimore, where Mayor Sheila Dixon is collaborating with non-profits, businesses, and government agencies to place 6,500 teens into summer jobs, achieving the same goal as 2008. This past March, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty hosted a two-day Summer Youth Job Expo, inviting residents aged 14-21 to meet and interview with approximately 150 employers and apply for thousands of jobs.

Locally an important effort to help link youth with work opportunities is being spearheaded by Captain Tony McElroy of the Southeastern Division of the San Diego Police Department. Called “Each One Take One,” this new pilot project will target summertime job creation for young residents of southeastern city neighborhoods. Project organizers seek to partner community youth with business owners and entrepreneurs throughout our region, and begin to push the idea that there are many strong, positive children who are earning good grades and making the right choices in life, but now are simply looking for a chance for an entry-level position.

I will be doing my part, having agreed to partner with Each One Take One and help spread the word to business owners and community leaders about the importance of creating economic opportunities for aspiring local teens. Each One Take One hopes to find at least 100 jobs for southeastern youth this year, and with enough support from business leaders, they can create more opportunities in the future. I invite all fellow business leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs to attend the Each One Take One kick-off luncheon at the Joe and Vi Jacobs Center this May 7th, from 11:30AM to 1:30PM. Attendees can RSVP by email to Lucia Church at

If you can commit to creating one summer job this year for a southeastern youth, and participate in the success of Each One Take One, call Alonzo Alexander, pilot project coordinator at 619-527-3541, or 619-787-8752. They will also gladly accept any offers to provide an internship, mentorship, or a financial contribution to a pilot project partner who will provide transportation and other assistance to participating teens. San Diego’s future prosperity hinges upon the opportunities we create for our young people today. In these challenging economic times, San Diego’s business community must dig deep and open its doors for the next generation of entrepreneurs and workers.