80% of Long Beach youth surveyed believe job access is effective criminal justice prevention, but only half say they have access to a job.
Community leaders say not enough city resources go to support youth jobs and programs.
During COVID-19, the school district is exploring ways for students to still get work permits.
Editor’s Note: This article was largely written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Long Beach Unified is reportedly planning ways for youth to still get a work permit during the crisis, but our reporting does not suggest youth should seek work, including in high-risk industries, during this time.
This article presents local issues that existed before the COVID-19 outbreak and will exist after. For more youth resources around COVID-19, go here.
Getting a job didn’t just give David Espinoza some extra money, it gave him perspective.
Espinoza said that he and friend Orlando Angel, both Millikan High School students in their senior year, joined Pacific Gateway, a local at-risk youth employment agency, after a recruiter at their school encouraged them to do so.
“So we did [the application] the day of,” Espinoza said. The deadline was at 6, I turned it in at 5.”
Their last-minute haste led both young men to internships with the Long Beach City Prosecutor, where they said they earned $12 an hour.
They were able to use the extra cash to not rely on their parents for money and to learn about how to be responsible with their finances.
“After hard work, you think, is it really worth it to buy $150 shoes? Maybe $20 Skechers will do,” Espinoza said.
Personal growth isn’t the only bonus having a job at a young age offers. For some students, the time spent at a job is time not being spent getting in trouble with the law.
80% of Long Beach youth surveyed by VoiceWaves Youth Reporters in 2019 said they believed that access to a job is effective at preventing them from getting caught within the criminal justice system.
And yet, only half of these youth reported that they had access to a job.
About 77% of the surveyed youth cited career path and goal setting opportunities as another top method for prevention.
Other research tends to be on their side. A 2013 article by University of Minnesota sociologists, “How Work Affects Crime—And Crime Affects Work—Over The Life Course,” found that jobs are a deterrent because income can diminish one’s motivation to get involved in crime.
“When we focus on youth development, that’s really a diversion. You’re diverting crime, you’re diverting a potential risk of a youth getting in trouble,” said Jessica Quintana, executive director of Centro CHA.
Centro CHA is another organization in Long Beach that works in developing young people’s skills and connecting them to resources and paid work, including food handling, security work, customer service, and personal healthcare.
“[Work] helps their confidence, it gets them skills… It gives them encouragement to be doing something else than just be pondering ‘what am I going to do?’ or ‘this is all that’s for me’,” Quintana said.
Angel and Espinoza said that they received priority enrollment into Pacific Gateway’s program because they live in areas of Long Beach with high crime rates. The city’s Workforce Development Bureau also “provides adults and youth with career services and job training across four workforce centers.” About $60,000 is going towards supporting the creation of a Youth Strategic Plan, which is intended to strengthen youth development in Long Beach.
But while the programs are there, many youth say they are unaware the programs exist. Various organization leaders contend there’s not enough city support for programs altogether.
“[The] challenge is that we’re not putting our dollars to youth development… especially in those highly impacted communities,” said Quintana.
In one example, a career development program at Lakewood High School appears to have taken the opposite route.
“There was a moment where there was just one of us” as staff, said Jenny Gildon, a college and career specialist at Lakewood High School.
Gildon, who has been with the district since 2001, said that the college and career center team has recently begun to increase in size. She said that the larger team allows for more experimentation and innovation in the services provided to students.
“Internships have definitely increased,” Gildon said.
These positions give students a chance to try a variety of industries, including working in business, law enforcement, and medicine.
“Sometimes they realize they hate it,” Gildon said. “Which is incredibly valuable… so that students can spend time doing something else. So that they’re not stuck in something they’d spend time training for or schooling in later.”
Efforts to help youth find work have been impacted by the fallout of COVID-19, with many work opportunities beyond grocery store gigs and takeout food delivery becoming unavailable. But youth advocates are trying their hand at adapting.
“This is an ongoing process,” Gildon said. “[School districts] are coming up with a process so students can get a work permit during this time. And so the process is being worked out right now.”
Are you a youth looking for work right now? Have a strong opinion about the need for youth jobs? Share your story by emailing our editor at: [email protected]