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Summer Jobs League panel

Missouri's office of community engagement director Maida Coleman, St. Louis Mayor Slay, and Missouri deputy director of agriculture Darryl Chatman speak on a panel about the Summer Jobs League in front of students at Ranken Technical College in St. Louis on Feb. 26, 2015. 

In the two weeks that an application process has been open, more than 700 young people already have applied for 2,000 jobs that will be available in the St. Louis area through the Summer Jobs League, a program that aims to employ teenagers and young adults from low-income households.

Former Missouri Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman and Alice Prince, youth services manager at the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, gave an update Thursday at the Ranken Technical College on the expanded effort hire people aged 16 to 24, which was announced last fall.

The program is funded by $5.9 million of existing federal block grants. For both St. Louis and Kansas City, the program will fund the creation of 3,500 jobs.

The summer jobs program was expanded from 2014, when it was available to just 500 youth in St. Louis. Priority in hiring is given to households with low incomes.

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Jay Nixon said the unrest in Ferguson after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown sparked a nationwide conversation on education and economic opportunity. In the January speech, he cited the expanded summer youth jobs program as one of several “meaningful steps forward in Ferguson.”

Coleman, director of the newly formed Missouri Office of Community Engagement, is overseeing the jobs effort. Since the application process opened this month online at summerjobs.mo.gov, 761 have applied for the jobs, she said.

“We want as many young people as possible to apply,” Coleman said during a panel discussion before two dozen students from Ranken and other schools.

The summer jobs program can help youth determine what career path they may ultimately choose, Coleman said.

The jobs pay $8 an hour for up to 30 hours a week, with the employers bearing none of the costs or workers compensation responsibilities.

Ranken is providing 150 of the jobs at its campus, with partnering businesses that include machining parts for Bridgeton-based Hunter Engineering and research and development for Ferguson-based Emerson, Ranken’s president Stan Shoun said at the event.

Amy Ellen Schwartz, professor of economics and public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, said jobs programs like Summer Jobs League can be beneficial to both employees and the community.

“It speaks to what many people know intuitively — that kids shouldn’t spend their summers hanging around the house not doing anything,” Schwartz said.

Research Schwartz has conducted has shown an uptick in academic performance for youth following summer employment, she said, including increases in attendance and academic performance.

“The positive effects are bigger for those who keep doing it for a second and third year,” Schwartz said.

Ranken freshman Louis Ahlheim, 17, of St. John, attended Thursday’s panel discussion, whose members also included St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Darryl Chatman, Missouri’s assistant director of agriculture.

The student said he’s interested in applying for one of the available jobs.

Ahlheim, who also is a senior at Ritenour High School through a dual enrollment program, said he was concerned that a planned two-week school related trip to Germany this summer may make him ineligible, but the panelists assured him the Summer Jobs League is flexible and can accommodate him.

“What really got me was they said that the jobs will work with me and my schedule,” he said.

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