Evanston aldermen Monday night got an update on city efforts to get more young people engaged in school and careers.

Kevin Brown, manager of the city’s Youth and Young Adult Program, said studies show that as many as 3.4 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are chronically disengaged — they’ve never been in school or in the workforce after turning 16.

And another group roughly the same size is currently disengaged — although they’ve been involved in some school or work activity during their young adulthood.

They’re what recent research calls “opportunity youth” — individuals who will cost society a half-million dollars or more in social program and other costs if they aren’t guided to a more successful life path.

Many will end up pursuing a life of crime and spend much of their life in prison.

Brown says an Evanston 150 report claimed there may be as many as 3,000 “opportunity youth” in Evanston.

He says that since the city’s program began in March 2012, he and his assistant director, Porschia Davis, and two full-time and two part-time youth outreach workers have served 416 clients, and he anticipates the total will reach 500 by the end of this year.

In addition, Brown says, the city’s summer youth employment program has provided jobs to over 500 young people this year and he hopes to grow that number substantially in the future.

“We know from research that if we can get to 1,000 young people employed over the summer that will have a significant impact on reducing criminal activity in the community,” Brown told the aldermen.

He said 43 young people have been placed in a career pathways program run by the city and the Youth Job Center, and about 70 percent of those participants have now been in permanent jobs for more than a year.

And, he said, the city has found permanent or part-time employment for 130 other young people and placed 13 in housing.

Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked about expanding efforts to reach the families that the troubled young people are growing up in.

“We need to work with families if we’re going to make a substantial change. Without a two-generation approach we’ll not reach as many people or have long-range effects,” Burrus said.

Brown said he would return to the council soon with a proposal to expand the city’s outreach to families.

Related documents

The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth (.pdf) Corporation for National and Community Service

Opportunity Road: The Promise and Challenge of America’s Forgotten Youth (.pdf) Civic Enterprises

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. An Existing Program for youth

    It would be good for youth to get job experience with pay [how many would do so without pay ?] but it is well known that youth and esp. minority unemployment rate is very high whether from lack of jobs, lack of qualifications for available jobs, minimum wage laws lead employers to hire older experienced workers, or bad attitude/performance of seekers.

    We already have an established institution to keep kids off the streets and preparing for jobs—the schools.  Why not have year-round school with a number of shorter breaks through the year ? It has been shown that students retain more than when they have a long summer break.  I don't think Evanston has many farmers who need their kids to work the fields [origin of summer break].  Students will learn more and be off the streets.

    Oh, yes.  I guess the unions would not like it !

    1. Year Round School + Employer Bias

      I agree with you on having a longer school year. All schools would need to have adequate air conditioning if this were to occur, of course. And we would need to pay our teachers more.

      However, let's also acknowledge that employers are less likely to hire black and Hispanic individuals, even youths.

      White high school drop outs are as likely to land jobs as black college students.
      Black Man/White Felon: Same Chances for Hire
      Employers Replies to Racial Names

      And it starts young. Preschool young. It's not all about bad attitude or performance; a lot of it is about employers' perceptions and unacknowledged biases.


  2. Just wondering

    This program is failing big time. I had the opportunity to observe this youth workforce in effect on July 5th in the morning hours. The city had over 50 black youth picking up garbage along the lakefront.. All the young kids were wearing neon green and orange work vests. I couldnt help but think these kids were part of the Cook County SWAP program, the kids probably felt the same way. I asked the sole adult in charge – where is the diversity and why are they dressed like they are part of the SWAP program. Why does the city make these kids look like they are part of the SWAP program? The city employee told me that out of all the summer job applicants only 2 white kids applied for summer jobs. so much for diversity in the work force. Why is it white kids dont work for the city?

    Now as far as these "mentors" reaching out to the youth……You dont see the mentors on Howard Street. You don't see these mentors at James Park.You dont see them at the Crown Center or even Brummel Park. Do they ever engage non-African American youth outside of Mason Park or the Fleetwood Center? Even then it isn't working. The cops just recovered a gun at the Fleetwood Center after finding a group of kids smoking weed on the premise. Sounds like these mentors are just collecting a paycheck.

    1. Just Wondering About Just Wondering

      You criticize youth because their uniforms made you uncomfortable? I was on the lakefront July 5 in the afternoon. These youth did a great job clean the place up, which is what they were paid to do. 

      1. I just wanted to clarify and
        I just wanted to clarify and say just wondering’s comment hits the nail on the head not the comment directly above mine.

  3. Math shows low return on investment
    For the equivalent of five full-time workers (four full time and two part time), I am not impressed with the taxpayers’ return on investment for these workers.

    In 2 years and 3 months (2.25 years), the five full-time workers have worked with 416 youth. That comes to 83.3 youth receiving some type of contact or services from each of these five full-time employees (416 youth divided by 5 workers) over those 2 years and 3 months.

    Serving just over 83 youth per employee over a 2.25 year period seems to be fairly low productivity. I am certain that some youth need more contact and services than others. But even averaging 10 hours of contact or work with each youth, it does not appear that there is a lot of contact or work going on, given the number of people assigned to this work and 3,000 “opportunity youth” that exist in Evanston.

    Does that group have any data on the type of contact or services provided to each of the 416 youth? Not all contact requires a huge investment of time.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *