Random Chaos | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Summer Youth Employment Program was supposed to give decent-paying summer jobs to young people across the city. But the odds of getting a job varied widely -- depending on what part of town the applicant was from.

The city offered 232 positions, which paid 14-to-18-year-olds $7.15 an hour for 30 hours a week of outdoor maintenance. The pay and opportunity was enough to attract more than 700 applicants -- three times the number of available jobs.

And in some neighborhoods, the odds of getting a job were even steeper than that.

According to data provided by the city, only 8 of 59 applicants from Homewood were hired; in East Liberty, 8 out of 43 students to apply got a position. Only 10 out of 45 North Side applicants got posts. (Percentages don't include applicants who were listed under two neighborhoods -- "Mount Oliver/Carrick," for example.)

By comparison, Beltzhoover had roughly half as many applicants as East Liberty (24) and yet ended up getting nearly twice as many (14) jobs. Similarly, the West End got the same number of jobs as the North Side did, even though it had only one-quarter the number of applicants.

Such disparities may result, oddly enough, from the city's attempt to be even-handed.

"We wanted to make sure we had an equal distribution across the city," says Neil Parham, the mayor's youth policy manager. So each region was allocated a roughly similar number of jobs ... regardless of how many young people in each region actually applied. Candidates were divided up geographically -- north, south, east and west -- and "picked out of a hat."

"[W]e didn't give special treatment to those from one neighborhood over another," Parham says.

Since the number of jobs didn't vary with the number of applicants, however, kids in neighborhoods with the highest amount of interest had the lowest chance of getting a post. Generally, kids in East End neighborhoods had the worst luck: In Lawrenceville and Highland Park, less than 15 percent of applicants got jobs. Kids in western neighborhoods fared better: Two-thirds of applicants from Chartiers were selected, 60 percent from Elliott were, and half of the applicants from Sheraden.

"It's puzzling how you get results like this in a blind draw," says Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation. "I took statistical analysis in grad school, and it seems to me that a blind draw should have been a little more equal across the board."

Swartz says he applauds the city for starting a program and for trying to make the process random, which should cut down on shenanigans involving discrimination and patronage. However, Swartz says, some attention should be paid to the number of applicants in each neighborhood ... as well as to other factors like the opportunities available for kids in each neighborhood, and how many eligible youngsters live there.

While the BGC runs its own youth-outreach program, Swartz says that "Unfortunately, we're going to have a lot of disappointed kids in the neighborhood." Garfield, in fact, had 36 applicants, among the highest numbers in the city. But only four of them, a paltry 11 percent, got jobs.

"If the city does this next year, I would hope that they would talk to those of us out in the neighborhoods about the process and even make it open to us," Swartz says. "When people come up to me and they see that only four kids in Garfield were selected, they're going to want to know what the process was."

Councilors Len Bodack and Twanda Carlisle, who represent the neighborhoods with the lowest percentages, did not return calls seeking comment.

Parham points out that, citywide, the administration was able to double the number of jobs offered. "We were originally set to hire 116, but we doubled that commitment to give more young people a chance to get a job," he says. City councilors urged the city to hire every applicant, and Parham says, "We are still reaching out for additional funding to employ as many as we can.

"This is the first year for the program," Parham adds. "When we put together the process we wanted to make sure it was fair to all youth. However, we will be getting feedback on the program and we will look at if there's a need to target certain areas and are we cutting people out of the process."

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