Without work, and without school, the White House reported that these disconnected youth cost taxpayers $93 billion in missed taxes and spent social costs. Over a lifetime, that can amount to $4.7 trillion. In their own lives, that can mean they're more likely to become incarcerated or unemployed.
The jobs fair was part of program called the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative. It's an ambitious plan to hire that many disconnected youth in three years.
Candidates walked between booths for companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill, FedEx, CVS Health, Walmart, and Starbucks. Interviews happened one-on-one at folding tables.
The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative was started by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has recently experimented with a lot of programs that would create jobs for young people—particularly young people of color—and help pay for their college.
"The rules of engagement for philanthropy are changing," Schultz said in a statement before the event. "It's not just about writing a check; rather, our approach is focused on creating a coalition of like minds with local knowledge, expertise on-the-ground, and the ability to scale the social impact of an initiative like this to create pathways of opportunity for the literally millions of young people."
(Read about another group reaching young people, the Posse Foundation.)
But can learning to roll a Chipotle burrito or mixing a grande coffee really make much of a difference?
"One of the best things about this opportunity is it allows underserved youth to understand what it means to live off those jobs and to want more and strive for more," says Nichole Pinkard, a professor at DePaul University and founder of the Digital Youth Network, an organization working with 100,000 Opportunities.
For the past couple of years, Pinkard has helped develop a program where youth can earn special badges online. (Merritt had earned many of these badges.) Students earn badges by completing certain tasks—be it in soft skills like mock interviewing and how to dress for work, or more career-focused skills like editing videos and coding. Some of the earned badges can even count toward Advanced Placement credits for college.
The program works with schools across Chicago (and it is being tested in other cities, too) and students complete the tasks online. The organization even outfitted a van with laptops to visit those neighborhoods with poor Internet access. The hope is that these badges will give students like those who participated in the jobs fair something to put on a résumé. Pinkard says: "It's the beginning of an opportunity for youth. It's not the end point."
Pinkard's work is itself part of a 100-group umbrella organization called Chicago City of Learning. And the Cities of Learning program extends across the country, to places like Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
Without work, and without school, the White House reported that these disconnected youth cost taxpayers $93 billion in missed taxes and spent social costs.
This is how the 100,000 Opportunities program intends to reach as many people.