Hundreds of high school students from throughout Massachusetts marched from Faneuil Hall to the State House today calling for the restoration of funding for youth jobs and for more businesses to create positions for teens.
“This is important for me to be here, begging these legislators for more jobs, because we are the future of this next generation. And to save kids from being out on the street and doing things they shouldn’t be doing, why not open up more jobs for us?” said Sheraine Blake, 18, a senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy, standing on the steps leading to the front entrance of the State House.
“It will cut down on drugs and all the violence, just because they have a place to go, and they will be getting paid and it’s educational as well,” she said.
Blake was one of about 1,100 students who turned out from at least a dozen cities and towns, including Somerville, New Bedford, Brockton, Springfield, and Worcester.
The annual demonstration started in the summer of 2009, when the state Legislature proposed cutting the youth jobs package by 50 percent due to a lack of federal funds. About 700 youth showed up then to protest the cut from $8 million to $4 million, and the Legislature eventually found $4 million in unused emergency funding. The package remained at $8 million in 2011 and last year it rose to $9 million, according to officials with the Boston-based Youth Jobs Coalition.
Even with that funding, the coalition says the employment rate of youths has fallen off dramatically, citing a 2012 report by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that put the teen unemployment rate at an all-time low of 27 percent, compared with 54 percent in 1999.
A second component of the youth jobs package, subsidies from the state to private companies to hire and train youth, has been slashed, from $7 million to $2.8 million, said Lew Finfer, a leader of the coalition.
“That has really hurt the effort,” he said.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke inside Faneuil Hall before the march, saying that every year of his administration youth jobs have been at the top of his to-do list.
“It’s a no-brainer. . . . When you put young people to work, it creates opportunities for you, it’s a learning process, to build up new relationships,” he said. “When January starts, my number one priority is getting summer jobs for our young people.”