Teens march to decry cuts in summer jobs

Protesters link youth idleness to deadly violence

Organizers said 700 young people joined the march through Boston Common and the rally at the State House. The governor’s office hopes federal aid will replenish some of the cut funds. Organizers said 700 young people joined the march through Boston Common and the rally at the State House. The governor’s office hopes federal aid will replenish some of the cut funds. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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They carried handmade signs that read, “More money for teens, less need for cops,’’ and “Youth jobs reduce youth violence.’’ Many wore buttons with photos of friends who have been slain in recent years. They said the issue was a matter of life and death, for them and their friends.

Chanting “we want jobs,’’ several hundred teenagers from Roxbury, Dorchester, and beyond marched through Boston Common and rallied at the State House yesterday to protest deep cuts in two state programs that subsidize summer jobs for thousands of low-income youth.

“Cutting funding will cut jobs, and more kids will be chilling on the corner, causing more youth violence,’’ said Edith Ayuso, an 18-year-old from Dorchester, addressing the rally from the steps of the State House. “Cutting jobs for youth is like cutting part of our education.’’

The programs at issue are Connecting Activities, which subsidizes private-sector jobs, and YouthWorks, which funds government and nonprofit jobs. Citing a budget crunch, state officials have cut funding for Connecting Activities from a high of $7 million in fiscal 2007 to $2 million this year, and Youth Works from a high of $11.3 million in fiscal 2008 to $4 million this year.

City officials and youth workers have called the programs a lifeline for teens during the summer months, when gun violence typically spikes. But the initiatives, which subsidized 11,783 jobs last summer, have been slashed as federal stimulus aid has dried up and legislators grapple with an economic crisis.

At the rally, Javier Sosa, a 19-year-old from Dorchester, carried a sign commemorating his friend, Hardy Celestin, a 17-year-old East Boston High School student and a counselor at the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club, who was shot and killed at a bus stop in Mattapan in 2006.

“If everybody had a job or had the opportunity to get a job, they wouldn’t have to die like that,’’ Sosa said. “But instead, they want to cut our funds, so we’re out here to support what we need.’’

Troy Brandon, 17, who lives on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester, a street that has been plagued by gang violence, said he was fighting for more opportunities for teenagers in his neighborhood.

“The teens in my community aren’t bad kids, but they don’t really have anybody to guide them or give them a job,’’ he said. “They feel like they’re useless. I want to change that mind-set and have them feel like they can get a job if they want to.’’

But David G. Tuerck - executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative think tank - said the state does not have money to subsidize jobs for teenagers this year, along with many other programs.

“At some point, you have to take funding away from programs that would otherwise be sustained if it weren’t for this downturn,’’ Tuerck said. “This means that some people, even teenagers, are going to have to suffer, just like the people in the private sector.’’

Organizers of the rally argued that the state needs to subsidize jobs because entry-level positions, which were filled by teenagers in past summers, are being snapped up by older workers desperate for jobs in the recession. Lew Finfer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said the teen employment outlook is the worst it has been in 30 years.

“It’s kind of ridiculous,’’ said Brandon, the 17-year-old from Dorchester. “Why wouldn’t you want your youth to have jobs? These are the people who are going to become adults and then work in the community, so why wouldn’t you want to see that?’’

Governor Deval Patrick has recommended cutting the programs by another $300,000 in next year’s budget. In addition, Nancy Snyder, Patrick’s point woman on summer jobs, said that federal stimulus money, which subsidized 7,000 jobs last summer, will support only 2,000 jobs this summer.

To soften the blow, Patrick may use some summer jobs money from next year’s budget for jobs this summer, Snyder said. Patrick is also urging Congress to allocate money for summer employment in a pending jobs bill, she said.

“It’s good for kids and good for the economy,’’ Snyder said. “We’re pushing hard for it in the national jobs bill.’’

The large crowd at the demonstration gave 15-year-old Luis Roman of Roxbury hope that state and federal officials would restore the programs. The teenagers - numbering 700, according to the organizers - were mobilized by Sociedad Latina, Project RIGHT, the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, and other groups that work with youth.

“All together, we have so much power,’’ Roman said outside the State House. “I didn’t think there would be so many people. But after all these people, I’m just confident. I know we’re going to get it.’’

Levenson can be reached at