What Do the Taliban and Our Youth Have in Common?

Both groups are alienated, marginalized and need a second chance to come home.

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The picture it paints is extremely bleak,” says David Thigpen, policy expert for the Chicago Urban League. “We’ve seen an upsurge of youth violence in the last year, and we think it’s no accident that youth unemployment numbers are so high. Also, the youth dropout rate in Chicago is extremely high—nearly 50 percent. So this is creating a large mass of teens who have nothing to do and who have no options.” 

Sound familiar?

While the Chicago Urban League is not tackling violence directly, high unemployment figures have demonstrated the plight of Illinois’ disconnected youth, a segment of the population (between the ages of 16-24) that is both out of work and out of school. Within this group, blacks and Hispanics have been especially impacted by nationwide joblessness. In Illinois, for example, only 14 percent of black male teens were employed last year.

Such trends, says Thigpen, extract a great cost from society and foreshadow a long-term threat to America’s economic security.  Reinvigorating the country’s economic future requires closing the achievement gap; it means bringing young men of color back into the fold and into the workforce.

That’s why the Chicago Urban League and its partners have called for $1.5 billion in federal money to be allocated to the state for workforce development programs—training disengaged young people, connecting them with potential employers and promoting greater equity in the public education system. Economic stability, in this case, requires an American brand of reintegration.

As the league tries to provide work for disconnected youth, Dr. John Rich treats them. Rich, a primary-care physician trained in public health, runs the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice in Philadelphia, which uses “the tools of public health to address violence.”