Not only did teens and young adults without high school diplomas experience steeper declines in their employment than any other age group during the recent recession, they failed to capture any substantive share in job growth during the recovery and many were totally withdrawn from the workforce by the time they reach their late 30s.

These are the findings of a new report being released Monday by the Alternative Schools Network, exposing a grim picture of the economic prospects faced by young people in Illinois for the last 10 years. On Monday, the advocacy organization is holding a meeting with state lawmakers to discuss the findings.

One issue that Alternative Schools Network Executive Director Jack Wuest wants to discuss is why Chicago Public Schools officials haven’t moved quicker to open up new charter schools to serve dropouts who want to re-enroll in school. In 2009, when CPS won the right to expand the number of charter schools, the state legislature set aside five charters that could open up to six small campuses to re-enroll dropouts. Each of these alternative schools would serve about 160 students.

“This could take as many as 11,000 dropouts off the street,” Wuest said. But so far, only one of these schools has been given the go-ahead and the organization has only modest plans.

Wuest said that turnover in central office and questions from officials about these schools have led to the lack of progress. Despite the long-term existence of these problems, said Wuest, CPS has never made these young people a priority.

Young people of all education levels have suffered in the recession, but high-school dropouts were clearly hit the hardest, according to the data analysis done by Andrew Sum of the Northeastern University.  Chicago’s average dropout rate of 14.6 percent over the last three years outstripped the rest of the state and nation.

Young men in Chicago were almost two times more likely than females to drop out, and nearly one-fourth of black males were dropouts. Immigrant youth, especially Hispanics, were the most likely of all groups to lack a regular high school diploma.

Wuest said the discrepancies are part of a 20-year trend that has generated a cycle of low employment, low wages and single parenthood.  


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