“There is no way to get out if there is nothing to do. That was my personal connection, the increasing gang violence, and what it has done to my community….Youth want to work, and they need work.”
–Jaylin White, Fresno Youth Commission
Youth unemployment means something different depending on where you are. In affluent communities, the term may hardly seem to exist. Parents can afford the basic necessities and more: they can finance cars, take their families on vacation, send their children to summer camp, and save for college tuition. Young people may seek employment to supplement their allowances, to gain experience and build their resumes, or to fill up the long summer months, but working is a choice, not a necessity.
In Fresno, the unemployment rate for transitional age youth (16-24 years) is just over the national average at 10%, but here, the term is heavy with significance. Many young Fresno residents work, not just during summer vacation, but throughout the school year in order to support themselves and their families.
For Jaylin White, who has worked on gun violence as it pertains to youth throughout her high school career, youth unemployment means youth crime. Between 2014 and 2017, youth crime has skyrocketed. Within her community, “there is no way to get out if there is nothing to do. That was my personal connection, the increasing gang violence, and what it has done to my community.”
The Youth Jobs Campaign
Jaylin began working on youth jobs in September of last year when she was appointed to the City of Fresno Youth Commission. The Commission was new to the City of Fresno: City Council voted to establish it in April 2016 – at the urging of YLI youth leaders – to ensure that young people have a voice in policies that affect them. After conducting extensive community research, the Commissioners determined that youth unemployment was among the most critical issues impacting Fresno youth.
Over the next year, the Commissioners continued their research, which they presented to Council members to gain support for their cause. Councilwoman Soria championed the effort and, in June 2017, they succeeded in passing legislation that allocated $50,000 of the City budget to create 30 summer internships for youth across City departments.
Youth response to the new policy was more than revealing: within a couple of weeks, over 1,200 youth applied for the 30 positions. While the win was a critical first step, there was clearly more work to be done.
“Youth want to work, and they need work,” said Jaylin. The Commissioners began collecting surveys from high school youth across Fresno. In September 2017, they organized a town hall attended by 80 high school and college-age youth, as well as numerous elected officials and community leaders. A youth-facilitated panel, including a representative from Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, Councilwoman Soria, and Youth Commissioner Jovan Mendez, helped to raise community awareness of the issue, and additional surveys were collected.
“Young people recognized that a longer-term solution was needed, a commitment from the City of Fresno that would go beyond summer internships.” The Commissioners’ solution? A Jobs Task Force that would bring representatives from the public and private sectors to identify employment opportunities for youth. “Our vision was to have adult allies who have the resources to do better and more detailed research and to provide training to youth. Youth would also participate because obviously we have to be involved in the issues that affect us. We know what we need at the end of the day.”
Jaylin’s role was to build the Youth Jobs Task Force resolution and to advocate before Councilmembers. She collected statistics from other cities on similar initiatives and brainstormed industries that would be approached to participate in the Task Force. “Who do we want sitting at this table making decisions about us? what organizations are having the biggest impact on us? What can they do to benefit the youth within their own businesses? We wanted to reach all sorts of industries so that there are a wide range of job options for youth.”
Championed once again by Councilwoman Soria, the resolution passed on March 1, 2018 – YLI’s 119th policy win. “After we presented, Councilman Baines was expressing how proud he was of me and the others for being involved in the community and what we’re doing. He recognized that. You know what you’re doing, but when someone else recognizes that – a councilmember – it means a lot. I’m always looking for ways to stay motivated so that was a key moment for me, being recognized for my efforts.”
A highlight moment for Jaylin? Noting that the youth have met with considerable resistance at City Council, Jaylin described a meeting with some of the other students as the prepared to present to their Councilmembers: “we were trying to make up questions that the councilmembers would ask us so we wouldn’t be caught off guard. I looked around the table and saw just how powerful we were. YLI built this opportunity for us, built this leadership in us. I felt how intelligent, invested, and passionate we are. I want other youth to have that experience.”