About 12,750 teenagers got paid to work or learn something this summer, thanks to a jobs program that the city pieced together. Some had traditional jobs, such as being lifeguards or planting flowers, and were paid an hourly wage. But others were given stipends for participating in programs in which they painted or wrote poetry, among other things.

Chicago’s 9-month-old Department of Children and Youth Services was able to help the teenagers by convincing businesses, community-based organizations and other city departments to hire them. Those entities had to find money in their own budgets for the salaries and stipends.

This is far different from the way the program once worked. The city used to get a large federal grant each year to give teenagers minimum-wage jobs over the summer. As recently as 1999, the city had $12.9 million to spend.

Today, the city gets no federal money earmarked solely for its summer program. For this summer, aldermen voted to allocate $1.3 million in local funds, and businesses kicked in another $1 million. Most of the budget was used to cover administrative costs; a small portion paid the salaries of 660 teenagers hired by the Department of Children and Youth Services.

As recently as a decade ago, most teenagers from low-income families could get summer work from the city. Now teenagers apply online, and a job is not guaranteed. This summer, about 30,000 teenagers applied for 12,000 jobs, said Mary Ellen Messner, assistant director at the Department of Children and Youth Services.

She said the department hopes to serve more teenagers next summer.

Headshot of Sarah Karp

Sarah Karp

is an associate editor for our sister publication, Catalyst Chicago.