Childhood’s End in Chicago



Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has assumed responsibility from city parents about when and where childhood ends and adulthood begins, and the line runs through high school graduation ceremonies. Emanuel’s new policy for Chicago public school graduates gives students no time to peer into the future and consider their choices—he’s giving them a good, swift kick.

Starting with the class of 2020, students will have to provide evidence of college admission, military enlistment, a job offer or evidence of acceptance into a job training program, or “acceptance into a ‘gap year’ program” to receive a high school diploma. (That’s right, students will have to ask Chicago’s permission to take a year off.) This new policy undermines parent and student decision making and gives students fewer options over how to move on with their lives.

Consider one of the supposed options for future graduates—finding a job. Getting a job is about to become more challenging in the Windy City. Chicago’s minimum wage will be $11 per hour on July 1 and is set to increase to $13 by 2019. Gobs of economic evidence demonstrate that such minimum wage increases hurt younger, minority workers the most. Thomas Sowell writes in Basic Economics:

Unemployment among 16 and 17-year-old black males was no higher than among white males of the same age in 1948. It was only after a series of minimum wage escalations began that black male teenage unemployment rates not only skyrocketed but became more than double the unemployment rates among white male teenagers (HT: Mark Perry and Carpe Diem).

On top of this, Chicago policymakers do not instill much confidence they could implement this new policy to the benefit of students and families. Chicago Public Schools cannot even keep straight how many students are graduating : Last year, CPS had to admit that it reported the wrong graduation rate. CPS said the city’s graduation rate was 69 percent—already 14 percentage points below the national average—but sent out a correction later saying the figure was 66 percent.

In sum: Chicago is struggling with low graduation rates and has a job market ill-suited for young people to work. Oh, and then there’s Illinois’ $15 billion in unpaid bills and a pension shortfall that has observers comparing the Land of Lincoln to Venezuela.

Emanuel shouldn’t be taking choices away from students and families but making sure students have quality opportunities before and after they graduate. Parents should be free to choose and where their children learn so that students are prepared for whatever the future may hold. And considering Illinois’ dire fiscal situation, high school graduates will need every option available to them to reach the American Dream.

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