Studies show young adults in urban cities can find a job, but stressful environments prevent them from staying employed.
By Dr. Dale G. Caldwell
Urban communities are in an employment income crisis. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator and the Living Wage Index, the households in urban communities that can pay their bills range from 72 percent in San Francisco to 34 percent in Camden, New Jersey. That means between 28 percent and 66 percent of urban households do not earn enough money to pay their monthly bills. They are unemployed or underemployed (they have a job but don’t earn enough money to pay their bills).
This crisis is most critical among urban youth and young adults. According to the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, more than 50 percent of 20 to 24-year-old black male Chicago residents are not in school or don’t have a job. Many political leaders suggest plenty of jobs are available and blame individuals in these urban communities for the low rate of employment. Research suggests that one of the primary reasons for this crisis is the prevalence of trauma among the residents of poor urban communities.
Over the last 25 years, psychologists have suggested that individuals living in communities where there is frequent violence, crime, and abuse experience the same symptoms as individuals diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, the violence, crime, and abuse that residents experience takes place on a daily or weekly basis, so the trauma they experience is not “Post.” It is unique to living in an urban neighborhood. I have found that the term Urban Traumatic Stress Disorder (UTSD) more accurately describes what residents of urban communities demonstrate when they are at home, in school, or at work. UTSD often leads to erratic behavior and can result in violence, uncontrolled anger, and substance abuse.
People experiencing UTSD often find it challenging to plan, focus and communicate because the urban-related trauma they experience leads to changes in the amygdala region of the brain that prevents them from being able to control their emotions effectively. Urban residents looking for employment must have definite plans relating to the type of job they are qualified for and how much they need to earn. Also, they must be able to communicate effectively with their boss, co-workers, and customers to keep their job.
America spends billions of dollars on job training programs in urban communities, teaching technical skills necessary to find and keep a job. But they do not provide the neurological support to address UTSD effectively. There are very few programs that combine trauma-informed job training for young adults. One innovative program that shows success is the “One Summer Program” in Chicago that provides a 25-hour-per-week summer job, a mentor, and social-emotional support for youth with a higher risk for violence. This program was part of a 2015 randomized-control experiment where 800 students received the job and trauma-informed support, and another group didn’t receive any support. The study found that the students who had the job and the trauma-informed support had 43 percent fewer violent crime events than the youth without support. That shows that trauma-informed job training could be essential to urban employment.
Dr. Dale G. Caldwell is the Executive Director of the Friends of PTSDJournal and the author of Intelligent Influence: The 4 Steps of Highly Successful Leaders and Organizations.