Memphis’ summer youth employment program, MPLOY, is lagging compared to peer cities like Saint Louis and Chicago. These cities are both excellent examples of the impact that investment in youth can have on previously disinvested communities. Explicit mayoral emphasis on youth investment and financial follow-through allowed these programs the opportunity to succeed for their city’s youth.
Chicago’s One Summer Chicago program has particularly flourished quickly since its creation in 2011. In only seven years, the city of Chicago has managed to provide more than 32,000 summer jobs to youth annually. In contrast, the MPLOY program was created in 2014 with 1,000 available jobs and has not experienced substantial growth since.
The programs in Saint Louis and Chicago are more successful than SYEPs in other peer cities because they actively address and target inequality among applicants. In both Saint Louis and Chicago, there is no expectation that youth be enrolled in school in order to participate in the program. This dedication to serving all youth, rather than just those on the “right” path, addresses the societal issues of discriminatory poverty, especially salient in cities such as Chicago and Saint Louis as well as Memphis, which encourages discriminatory drop-outs and expulsions from American school systems.
On the contrary, the MPLOY program’s requirement for a participant to be in school only perpetuates societal inequities and ensures that out-of-school youth remain uneducated with menial, if any, employment. With the right approach and proper investments, we could open this opportunity to more and close the opportunity gap for many. Continue reading to find out how.