For many inner-city youths, joblessness is a harsh reality. Parents are out of work. Dads have been laid off. Single moms struggle to carve out a decent life while working for meager salaries.
Urban youngsters--particularly those from deprived communities--are caught in the middle. Should they stay in school, go on to college and prepare for better futures? Or should they drop out and find a job to help out at home?
Many struggle with the decision, as these edited interviews make clear.
\o7 Kevin Irving, 18, is a senior at Manual Arts High School. He lives with his grandmother in South\f7 -\o7 Central Los Angeles and will be attending Cal State Dominguez next fall.
\f7 I didn't think I'd be going to college until last year. In the ninth and 10th grades, I was messing around and thinking about dropping out. My mind wasn't looking toward preparing myself for the future.
I get a lot of encouragement from my grandmother. She supports me. She had a sixth-grade education. She's always saying to me that I need to go to college, because even with a high school diploma I won't be able to get a job.
I have people in my family who just have a high school diploma and have settled for what they can get. They have talent, but they are stuck in a rut doing jobs that don't pay much, jobs that are dead-end.
I don't want that for myself. I want something higher. I want to become a singer. My goal is to get a recording contract. But more and more, college has become a priority, because one of my fears is that somehow I might end up homeless.
I've seen too many people become homeless because they can't get jobs. It seems that nowadays there just aren't jobs to get.
\o7 Elisa Padilla, 17, is a senior at Jefferson High School. She wants to study music production after she graduates.
\f7 It's a real struggle for my parents right now, especially with my college education coming up. My mom is laid off and my dad only works three days a week, because there's no work for him.
I would like to help them out financially by getting a job. I've received those kinds of pressures from home to find a job. But what about college then? I get angry at my parents. I tell them the time they aren't working they should be using to go to school, because it will help them both to get full-time jobs.
My parents don't approve of me going into music even though they are excited that I want to go to college. They wonder how am I going to get through life with music. But if I didn't have my music class at school, I would have dropped out.
\o7 Xiomara Abelar, 16, is a senior at Manual Arts High School. She would like to become a high school counselor and help immigrants like herself. She has applied to several colleges.
\f7 My family and college are important to me. Especially college. When you are a senior, you just think of college. When I was in the 10th grade, I was thinking about dropping out because I didn't think I would make it to the 11th. Now I am in the 12th, and I'm saying, "If I made it to the 12th, I can make it through college."
The way the economy is right now tells me that you have to have education to get a good job--and not just settle for a job that only takes unskilled labor.
My younger brother told me two days ago, "I want to drop out." I said, "I don't think so." I told him, "You will make it. You're smart. You are not less than anybody else. You stay in school and become somebody with a job that pays good."
He and I know that the future is with us. It's a lot of pressure. It's a big responsibility. But if we don't rebuild Los Angeles, if we don't care about our school, our community and jobs, who else is going to do it?
\o7 Bob Lee, 17, is a student at Metropolitan Skills Center, a Los Angeles school for at-risk students.\f7
I want to join the Army and find a career. I've lived here most of my life and I'm sick of Los Angeles. I'm sick of the racism and gang stuff. I'm sick about people not being able to find jobs. I'm banking on the Army to provide me with direction.
\o7 Nancy Enllanche, 18, is a senior at Jefferson High School.
\f7 I'll be the first one in my family to go to college. My goals are to major in biology, chemistry and geology. I'd like to become a doctor, because I want to help people--and because that's where the jobs will be.
Most of my cousins are female, and they got pregnant and dropped out of school. Some dropped out to work because they had to. There was a time when I decided to drop out because I was tired of school. I thought I could get a job. But what job can you get when you drop out of school?
My mom always tells me to drop out. She says, why should I study because sooner or later I am going to get married and I am going to stop going to school. I tell my mom I am not going to get pregnant and get married and have kids. No way. Not with me.