Restaurants role in saving youth and communities
With daily news highlighting the escalating crime, shootings and murder rates in Wilmington, as well our state’s looming economic budget shortfall, Delaware can only hope its newly elected leaders will come together to develop new strategies.
Each new administration transition brings with it the certainty of anticipation as well as change – many feel the slate is wiped clean and hope for success. Not all Delawareans feel this promise of new beginnings and resolutions, and their disconnection affects the health, safety and success of our communities. According to Measure of America (a report of the Social Science Research Council), 1 in 7 American adolescents and young adults between the ages of 16-24 is neither working nor in school.
We refer to these young people as our “disconnected youth.” Isolation from communities, education and work opportunities proves extremely costly to cities like Wilmington and to our state as a whole. In the United States, almost 6 million young people (14.7 percent) fall into the category of disconnected. Of our major ethnic and racial groups, African-Americans have a staggering rate of 22.5 percent disconnection rate. We see this played out in youth graduation and employment rates right here in Delaware. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Delaware’s unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, however the youth unemployment rate is 14.8 percent, and minority teen unemployment is an eye-opening 24.8 percent. Unemployed youth don’t fare better as they get older. Studies show that it gets more challenging to find work if you haven’t worked during your teenage years.
The ties that bind disconnected youth and adults alike are similar: household poverty, lack of employment and education. Finding educational initiatives and first-time job experiences are key to increasing youth connection, which will help ultimately break the poverty cycle and reduce crime.
Here in Delaware, programs like former Gov. Markell’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative are addressing the needs for successful career and education pathways for our high school students. ProStart is a successful culinary and hospitality management pathway which currently enrolls 3,000 diverse students in 19 high schools locally. Students are connected with an industry-driven curriculum, caring mentors and work-based learning experiences to help shape their critical thinking and the “soft skills” lacking in traditional learning environments. This education pathway is the most successful of the 10 Pathways to Prosperity because of the active role Delaware’s restaurant industry plays in working with our educators and mentoring these engaged students.
Youth employment and meaningful education have a wide range of positive effects. Earning a paycheck is important, but first jobs go a long way to help our youth develop a sense of purpose and feel included within their workplace and communities, all building self-esteem, decision-making skills and integrity. That first job will allow our youth to jump on the economic ladder and gain a foothold to future opportunities and unlimited earning and learning potential. Simply said: It helps kids stay busy, safe and out of trouble.
Saving our state’s entry-level and minimum wage jobs should be a priority for Delaware.
In Delaware, restaurants are offering that vital link between education, opportunity and economic growth. Restaurants hire more summer youth than any other industry and offer opportunity to our state’s most vulnerable citizens, as well as to those who value this industry as a career of choice. Restaurants have become the catalysts for growth in communities once forgotten when other businesses have moved out, helping build communities and boost employment.
Elected officials and state leaders should take note and talk about this – perhaps over lunch at one of our state’s 2,000 restaurants, where hopefully they’ll be served by one of our promising young ProStart students.
Carrie Leishman is the President & CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, and Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation