Closing the Opportunity Gap

College & Career Readiness | 02/28/2019

Mackenzie Lampner
Intern, Stand for Children Tennessee

Mackenzie is a senior at Rhodes College studying education policy.

Youth investment programs have traditionally been created to invest in youth who were born into an advantageous position, so the programs in Saint Louis and Chicago are making great strides by actively working against that tradition.

Saint Louis’ Youth Jobs program is especially dedicated to combating systemic inequality, and it has done so by ensuring that participation is solely open to youth who have been previously excluded from community investment. This is done through “target neighborhoods,” meaning that positions are only available to youth living in areas which have high rates of youth unemployment, poverty, and juvenile crime and low graduation rates.

Throughout the program, 55% of participants received assistance with one or more basic needs such as clothing, transportation, childcare, or health services. Those working on Youth Jobs in Saint Louis believe that their program will increase the ability of Saint Louis’ youth to obtain meaningful work and contribute to their families and communities, thereby increasing the prosperity of the city as a whole.

Administrators of the Memphis program have likewise made an attempt to use this program as a means through which to more fairly redistribute resources such as wealth and career development. The MPLOY program chooses participants through a random lottery system with spaces allocated to school districts dependent on their students’ overall relative economic disadvantages.

However, in order to truly combat societal inequality, and thereby create a more competitive workforce, Memphis needs to truly invest in education initiatives and youth opportunities like the MPLOY Summer Youth Experience Program. This would require a shift in focus from investing in police and fire, whose two budgets jointly comprise 64.41% of the 2019 budget, to an investment in people.

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