Image: Detroit
Carlos Osorio  /  AP
A boy walks in an alley in west Detroit. Roughly one in four working-age adults is jobless in Detroit. The situation is more dire for 16- to 19-year-olds who face an unemployment rate of 57.4 percent, according to the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, citing last year's U.S. Census figures.
updated 10/17/2009 2:17:01 PM ET 2009-10-17T18:17:01

Like the rundown houses and shuttered storefronts in his Detroit neighborhood, bleakness abounds in LeRoy Taylor's future.

He is among tens of thousands reaching adulthood in a city where the American Dream appears just outside their reach. Taylor, 20, spends empty hours on basketball courts, zoned out in front of a television or aimlessly pedaling through streets he desperately wants to leave, but doesn't have the work skills, education or money to do so.

"I fill out applications. No one will call me back," said Taylor, stopping his bike long enough to hustle change for cigarettes near a west side bus stop. "It's useless. It's real scary."

Too few jobs are only part of the problems facing youths in this troubled city. Its public high schools are considered among the nation's worst. Planned budget cuts to the recreation department will reduce hours and slash into staffing.

Then there's crime
A 15-year-old and his mother were charged Wednesday with murder after a 19-year-old bystander was shot to death at a recreation center. The county prosecutor said the 35-year-old woman allowed her son access to a handgun and drove him away after the shooting.

Five other 15-year-olds were among six teens arrested earlier this month for as many as 10 armed robberies and carjackings. And in late June, seven teens were wounded during a bus stop shooting after summer school.

"The first thing that anybody who's young in this city has to face without a steady job is the threat of illegal, dangerous and life-threatening activities," said the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a longtime community activist. "If there's no viable options available, no legitimate sources of revenue, that often causes people to resort to crime."

About 32 percent of the city's 900,000 residents struggle in poverty as Detroit limps through the auto industry's collapse. Factory and manufacturing jobs are gone.

Roughly one in four working-age adults is jobless. The situation is more dire for 16- to 19-year-olds in Detroit who face an unemployment rate of 57.4 percent, according to the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, citing last year's U.S. Census figures.

"So many people that's not working ... it's just been hard," said DeAndre Wallace, 19, an alternative education student at Detroit Cares Academy. "I want to go into the service. Go ahead and graduate and leave the city."

Meeting standards
Until a few months ago, Detroit Cares was known as the Last Chance Academy for students who failed in traditional school settings. The privately run academy, under contract with Detroit Public Schools, receives its funding from the district. Traditional courses are taught alongside cosmetology, building trades and culinary arts.

Detroit high school students historically have done poorly on standardized tests. For example, 32 percent of 11th graders met or exceeded reading standards and only 14 percent did the same in math on the 2007 Michigan Merit Examination. Statewide averages were 60 percent in reading and 47 percent in math.

Image: Detroit youth
Carlos Osorio  /  AP
LeRoy Taylor standing next to his bike on a street corner in west Detroit. Like the rundown houses and shuttered storefronts in his Detroit neighborhood, bleakness abounds in Taylor's future.
District records show fewer than six of 10 high school seniors graduated in 2008, while the dropout rate was just over 27 percent.

An emergency financial manager appointed in March by Gov. Jennifer Granholm is restructuring the schools to improve education and student safety while trying to reduce a $259 million budget deficit.

"I don't think college preparation is the cornerstone of Detroit Public Schools anymore," said Sheffield, the founder and chief executive of Detroit Cares. "The vast majority of these kids are looking for a high school diploma and to get jobs."

Tanjanickia Childs has applied to places like CVS, McDonald's and Burger King. She isn't surprised none have called. Many employees flipping burgers and working cash registers have more experience than the 16-year-old high school senior.

"Some ... are around my mom's age," Childs said.

'My whole life'
Tina Evans, 19, said she has submitted about 25 applications, mostly for minimum-wage work. While she waits, Evans pushes her 4-month-old daughter around the neighborhood in a stroller.

"There is nothing else to do. Nothing is out here," said Evans, who lives with her mother. She said she was kicked out of Detroit schools for fighting.

Taylor — who said he's been jobless "my whole life" — dropped out of Cooley High School when he was 16 due to "lack of wanting to go to school," he said. If only he could get out of the city, he said, he could be accomplishing something.

He and his 4-year-old daughter live with his mother, who reminds him constantly that he still needs to get his diploma.

"Ain't nothing out here for you," he said she tells him. "End up getting yourself hurt or killed."

Sharlonda Buckman, director of the Detroit Parent Network, said young people need better schools and more recreational opportunities. Her organization works to improve parental involvement in education.

"I think the city has to get more creative about how to run programs, look at what dollars you do have and at creative partnerships," she said.

But money is in short supply in Detroit.

About 7,000 young people were employed under a summer jobs program, but its funding ran out. Recreation center hours, threatened with new reductions, have been cut to help trim the city's $300 million budget deficit.

Wallace, the Detroit Cares student, spent the summer two years ago in Atlanta. He said youth in that city had access to more recreation and sports programs than young people in Detroit.

"Up here, kids sell weed, rob houses and walk the streets," he said. "Down there, they had hobbies."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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