County officials pledge $4 million to Austin, South Side for job training for youth

April 16, 2017
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Austin and two other Chicago neighborhoods struggling with unemployment and violence will receive $4 million for youth job-training programs from the Cook County government.

The money targets at-risk, 16- to 24-year-olds. Cook County lawmakers announced an initial $1 million for Austin and Back of the Yards last October. An additional $3 million was recently committed to both neighborhoods and newly added South Shore, said Commissioner Richard Boykin, whose district includes Austin.

The unemployment rate in predominantly African-American Austin is 21 percent, significantly higher than the citywide rate of 11 percent and that state of 5.4 percent. All three numbers are among the worst unemployment figures in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chicago’s violence is also staggeringly high, with 165 homicides reported so far this year, according to the Chicago Tribune; 20 have occurred in Austin. Last year, Chicago saw 786 homicides, including 88 in Austin, some of the highest numbers in recent memory.

Speaking at a community meeting last week in Austin, Boykin said community groups will be able to apply for some of the job-training money. The county wants to train an initial 300 young people before expanding the program.

“Those communities will decide which organizations are going to do this training work to help people be prepared for job opportunities,” Boykin said to the audience of about 100.

The commissioner said he plans to work with Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) on the program.

Boykin didn’t say when the program will kick off, though news reports from last October said it’s expected to start this summer.

Last Monday’s town hall meeting was hosted by state Rep. Camille Lilly and state Sen. Don Harmon to discuss pressing issues facing the community.

How to fix and better fund Chicago’s schools were among the topics discussed, as well as the state’s fiscal crisis and budget stalemate. Stopping the rampant gun violence and improving police-community relations were topics touched upon.

Concerning the jobs program, Austin resident Yvonne Hammonds said the community needs more information on how the money will be spent.

“We need to know that [money] is going to this organization for these specific things they’re going to do for our community,” said Hammonds, who’s lived in Austin for 30-plus years.

Austin, she added, has seen some community organizations shuttered due to lack of money, another reason why transparency is needed on who’s getting what.

With some organizations, Hammonds said, “They’re hiding and not doing whatever they got the money for, or they’re not letting people know what they’re doing.

“It’s like, I don’t want you to know I got some money because then you’re going to hold me accountable. But if I’m doing my job, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Hammonds said.

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