Unemployment disaster

When gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, it was considered a national disaster. It joined the ranks of other catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti and the flooding of New Orleans.

But in the back pocket of Chicago, there are tremors of another crisis that could impact thousands of people and their families long term. That crisis? Unemployment. Particularly, chronic unemployment. With this crisis, families lose out on financial security and affordable health insurance. Bankrupt governments miss the opportunity for increased income tax revenue. And future retirees lose out on Social Security benefits.

Roughly three miles separate the neighborhoods in Chicago that hold among the best, and the worst, employment figures nationwide.

In this edition’s cover story, Reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein digs deeper into the unemployment numbers here in Chicago to find some disturbing trends about the current generation of workers. These workers are the chronically unemployed, folks who haven’t worked in five or more years. But even worse, they’re young.

As Kelly Lowenstein points out, parts of the West Side lead the nation when it comes to chronically unemployed young adults. It’s not a distinction the city should be proud of. And while the city spends millions hand over fist on job training programs, it doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the neighborhoods that need the most help.

In addition to spending money on job training, there could be more public attention paid to the issue. The same way the city mobilized for the immigration marches, eager workers could be rallied until the city effectively drives down its high unemployment rates. The mayor could declare a state of emergency, and employment advocates, like the unions, Urban League and Operation PUSH, could work together to take a stronger position.

Last year, the country bristled as the national unemployment rate hit 10 percent. But only once since 1981 has the rate for black people in Illinois been below that. It’s now approaching 20 percent.

When will someone sound an alarm, alerting everyone to this crisis? I say, now.

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