Detroit Youth Enterprise

 When hard times hit

The collapse of the automobile industry – combined with the national foreclosure crisis – devastated Detroit’s poor to an extent seen in no other American city. African Americans and Latinos bear the brunt of the city’s 15.3 percent unemployment rate, and minority youth have it even worse than their parents.

  • 48% of Detroit children under 18 live below the federal poverty level
  • 43% unemployment rate for African American youth age 16-19
  • Highest homeless rate (216 per 10,000) of any U.S. urban area

Creating Alternatives

An ongoing University of Michigan School of Public Health study – funded by a Ford Foundation grant and conducted in partnership with three Detroit service organizations (Alternatives for Girls, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Ruth Ellis House) – sheds new light on the day-to-day stresses on homeless youth in Detroit. With no money, no place to stay and no one to rely on, many resort to transactional sex to survive. That includes erotic dancing and sex for hire, but also sex in exchange for shelter, food, help, protection – putting them at increased risk for drug addiction, sexual infection and violence.

The Detroit Youth Enterprise project aims to build a safer path to self sufficiency by developing and evaluating a job skills/micro-enterprise program. The project not only improve youths’ immediate economic situations, but also build confidence and teach important social and organizational skills. It will build upon substantial research that’s already been done,with Ford Foundation support, by CARSS director Rachel Snow and her U-M School of Public Health colleagues. The project will also draw upon lessons learned from successful existing youth micro-enterprise projects, such as:

  • Goodwill Industries of Detroit: Offers programs that foster job readiness and help with job searches.
  • REAL Youth Entrepreneurship at VtSBC: Guides youth through the process of planning, creating, and operating small businesses of their own design.
  • The Women’s Bean Project: Built women’s skills in designing, assembling and marketing a profitable nationwide business of “soup” bean packages.
  • Youth Entrepreneur Camp: Subsidized “summer camp” experience for middle school students that builds small business skills.
  • YouthBuild USA: Helps disadvantaged youth and young adults complete secondary education while serving their communities by building affordable housing.

A unique opportunity

The Detroit Youth Enterprise project benefits from a rare confluence of information, expertise and connections, including a long history with partner organizations in Detroit and a rich set of existing data from the Ford Foundation research. With CARSS support, the project will sponsor a workshop that brings together national experts, community partners, faculty, students and at-risk youth to design a program that fits the youth it’ll serve.