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High school students march for jobs

More than 1,000 high school students from across Massachusetts marched from Faneuil Hall to the State House Thursday, calling for increased funding for youth jobs and asking that more companies create summer positions for teens.

“This is important for me to be here, begging these legislators for more jobs, because we are the future,” said Sheraine Blake, 18, a senior at the Boston Community Leadership Academy, as she stood on the State House steps. “And to save kids from being out on the street and doing things they shouldn’t be doing, why not open up more jobs for us?”

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“It will cut down on drugs and all the violence,” she added.

The students, who hailed from at least a dozen cities and towns, chanted “We want jobs” as they wound through downtown on their way to the State House. Once there, they were briefed on how to approach elected officials about their concerns. State Representative Elizabeth A. “Liz” Malia, a Democrat who represents Jamaica Plain, met with the students, as did several other state legislators.

The annual demonstration, organized by the Boston-based Youth Jobs Coalition, began in the summer of 2009, when the Legislature proposed cutting 2010 state funding for youth jobs by 50 percent, because of a lack of federal money.

About 700 youths showed up that year to protest the cut to $4 million, and the Legislature eventually found $4 million in an unused emergency fund to restore total spending — used for the creation of municipal jobs for teens — to $8 million. Spending remained at $8 million in 2011 and last year rose to $9 million, according to officials with the Boston-based Youth Jobs Coalition.

Even with that funding, the coalition says employment of high-school age youth has fallen dramatically, citing a 2012 report by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that put teen employment at a record low of 27 percent, compared with 54 percent in 1999.

A second component of the youth jobs program, subsidies from the state to private companies to hire and train youth, has been slashed, from $7 million to $2.8 million, said Lew Finfer, an adult leader of the Youth Jobs Coalition.

“That has really hurt the effort,” he said.

Finfer said the coalition is seeking summer jobs that pay about $2,500 for up to seven weeks. He said that in Boston, there are 45 companies that have workforces with more than 500 employees that are not hiring young people, and 357 companies that have more than 100 employees that are not hiring teens.

“We are really pushing on those companies to consider creating jobs for youths,” he said.

To pay for state subsidies for those jobs, Finfer said students are urging legislators to accept Governor Deval Patrick’s $1.9 billion tax hike proposal, and the ‘Act to invest in our Communities,’ which was cosponsored by 50 legislators. That act proposes increased income tax and capital gains tax on higher-income residents.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke inside Faneuil Hall before the youth march Thursday, saying that every year of his administration, creating jobs for youth has been at the top of his to-do list.

“It’s a no brainer . . . when you put young people to work, it creates opportunities for you, it’s a learning process, to build up new relationships,” Menino said. “When January starts, my number one priority is getting summer jobs for our young people.”

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.
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