State Rep. Ford wants state's help with job creation in West Side district, but will it deter violence?

State Rep. Ford wants state's help with job creation in West Side district, but will it deter violence?
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On the heels of yet another bloody Chicago weekend, 8th District state Rep. La Shawn Ford plans to have a town hall meeting tonight to discuss how to curb violence in high-crime neighborhoods.

Ford has said state-assisted job creation could be a boon for many of the low-income, high-crime communities in his West Side district and across the city.

"Stronger partnerships can be built with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. We are looking for ways to improve conditions for poor communities by  finding ways to improve education delivery, reduce unemployment, grow and start businesses, and improve the overall delivery of state services," Ford said in a news release.

The Chicago Reporter caught up with him on Monday and he elaborated on forging stronger ties with DCEO.

Basically, Ford believes that state loans and grants available to small businesses through DCEO will create more jobs. More jobs mean less people on the street engaging in illicit activity, Ford said.

"The stronger our community businesses are, then we will have more jobs to provide in those communities," Ford told the Reporter.

But does job-creation deter crime and violence? What if many of the positions pay low wages?

"Improving economic opportunities is certainly one important piece of the puzzle," said Dr. Paul Schewe, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago's department of criminology, law and justice.

"But a minimum-wage job isn’t going to make a big impact in a [high-crime] community, unless it’s also tied with intervention, improving education, you know, having good laws and enforcement," he added. "I wouldn’t discourage any thoughtful intervention, though. It's just that no one activity is ever going to be the answer."

In other words, job creation is no silver bullet, according to Schewe, especially if the positions don't pay very well.

But another criminologist noted that the idea that most drug dealers and gang members--many of whom place themselves in great danger--earn a lot of money for their work is largely untrue.

The criminologist also said that while creating jobs can't hurt, there's really no hard evidence that suggests the strategy helps to deter crime.

Chicago's and Cook County's Summer Jobs program subscribes to the theory that such an approach will work. The program offers jobs to youths from high-crime neighborhoods, in an attempt to keep them off the streets. The program's impact is not yet known, as it is ongoing, the criminologist said.

Ford, who two years ago called on the National Guard to stop the killing in Chicago's streets, said it's now on him to make sure the state does its part. And he has said that no one initiative will accomplish this.

"It’s my responsibility to make sure that the state lives up to its responsibilities to serve all communities," he said.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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