Connecting state and local government leaders

Chicago Focuses Its Quality of Life Index on Youth

Looking southward in Chicago, Illinois

Looking southward in Chicago, Illinois Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

Chronic, concentrated joblessness has caused young, black men to struggle in the nation's third-largest city, and an index will assist officials in refining services to help them be successful.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tasked a working group with developing a youth quality of life index and scorecard measuring the impact of the city’s youth investments over time and informing future budgets.

The working group is comprised of independent experts and academics from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to Thrive Chicago and will be advised by multiple city agencies, including the Department of Family and Support Services.

Using research, statistical data and evidence-based metrics, the working group will evaluate city policies and programs at the neighborhood level.

“One of the primary advantages of a youth quality of life index is, as programs and policies are implemented, we can measure change,” Teresa Cordova, director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Route Fifty by phone. “It’s a great window to determine what is working under what conditions.”

Over the past few years the institute, which is part of the working group, has conducted extensive research into youth joblessness in Chicago—discovering that it is predominantly black men between the ages of 20 and 24 who are jobless.

The institute further learned that out of school and out of work rates were also inordinately high for young, black men in the city and that increased incidences of joblessness correlated with increased homicides.

“These conditions are concentrated, and they are chronic,” Cordova said. “It is a function of the abandonment and flight of industry in particular neighborhoods, so it’s tied to the overall condition of neighborhoods.”

In that way, Chicago’s index may end up saying a lot about other Rust Belt cities hit hard by the decline of manufacturing.

Chicago’s youth index will build on existing quality of life indexes in other cities while also innovating to address conditions particular to itself, Cordova said.

“[I]t will take a cradle to career look at the lives of youth across Chicago and determine specific policies and city programs that help our kids grow and become successful in the 21st century economy,” Emanuel said in last week's announcement.

The working group will inventory existing city efforts that directly and indirectly affect youth, many of which Chicago may opt to evolve or expand, Cordova said.

She praised the city’s summer jobs and job training programs, as well as its direct delivery through partnerships of social and emotional health services.

Social, emotional and physical health comprise one area of analysis for the index along with education and skill development, safety and access to basic needs like housing and food. Youth will be divided into birth-8, 9-15, and 16-24 age brackets.

Local, state and federal investments will be taken into account with city funds prioritized based on the index’s findings. Municipal investment in youth programming has tripled in Chicago since 2011 with $75 million spent across early education, out of school time and enrichment programming, job initiatives, youth violence and mentoring, health and homelessness, the arts, and library and park services.

Emanuel is eyeing an early summer release of the index for use with Chicago’s 2019 budget.

“If we can close the gap between what we know and what we do, Chicago’s youth will be safer,” said Bryan Samuels, Chapin Hall executive director, in a statement. “They will be healthier. They will be better educated.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: How Voters With Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box