Summer youth employment programs

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Summer youth employment programs (SYEPs) provide short-term jobs for youth, usually 14-24 years old. Placements usually last six to eight weeks and participants typically work 15-30 hours per week. Programs are generally run by government agencies or non-profits, and positions are usually subsidized by program organizers; private sector employers may offer more competitive placements and may pay participants without using a subsidy. Programs usually focus on creating opportunities for disadvantaged youth and may include additional supports such as a work-readiness curriculum1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Decreased crime

  • Decreased violence

  • Increased employment

  • Increased earnings

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased job skills

  • Increased social emotional skills

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that summer youth employment programs (SYEP) decrease arrests for violent crime2, 3, 4. Programs also increase employment and earnings for youth during the year that they participate5, 6, 7, especially disadvantaged youth6. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Program participation may decrease risky and violent behaviors8. Evaluations of Chicago-based One Summer Plus suggest summer jobs can reduce arrests for violent crime among black youth with low incomes one year after program participation3, 4. An evaluation of the Boston SYEP suggests participation can also reduce arraignments for violent crimes in the 17 months post intervention, particularly among black and Hispanic males2. An evaluation of New York City’s SYEP suggests participation in such programs may decrease the risk of incarceration and mortality for up to three years, especially among disadvantaged youth6. Effects on property crime vary; in Boston, property crimes declined2 while in Chicago property crime arrests increased 2-3 years after participation3.

Although employment and earnings increase in the year of program participation, summer work experience programs do not appear to increase employment rates in following years3, 5, 7, perhaps due to the short length of the intervention7 or because participants might have found longer term job opportunities without program support6. However, in some cases, participation slightly increases the likelihood of having a job in the long-term3, 6. The largest positive employment effects do not appear to be in the disconnected youth usually targeted by summer jobs programs3.

Evaluations of both local and federally supported, state-implemented programs suggest summer youth employment may increase soft skills9 and job readiness skills2, 10, 11, and provide personal and professional development opportunities for at-risk youth12. Such programs may also increase community engagement2, 10.

Evaluations of summer jobs provided through New York City’s SYEP suggest such programs may increase the likelihood of taking and passing statewide exams13, 14, particularly among high-risk students14. However, they do not appear to increase school attendance, high school graduation5, or college enrollment5, 6. Conversely, an evaluation of Grow Detroit’s Young Talent suggests participants in SYEPs are more likely to remain in school, take the SAT, and graduate high school, and less likely to be chronically absent than non-participating peers; effects are strongest for those who entered high school with the weakest academic skills15. Boston’s SYEP increased academic aspirations for participants2, 10, while Chicago’s program had no significant impact on attendance, GPA, or persistence in school3.

Experts suggest that ideal candidates for SYEPs are disadvantaged youth and young adults who are still in school and are reasonable candidates for employment16. Experts also suggest high performing summer jobs programs recruit employers and worksites, match participants with age- and skill-appropriate opportunities, provide training and professional development on work readiness, provide support to both youth and supervisors, and connect the summer program with other community resources17.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), the Youth at Work Program in Santa Clara County California, and Los Angeles’ Hire L.A. Youth are examples of SYEPs operated by local governments. Chicanos Por La Causa Summer Youth Employment Program in Arizona and Illinois’ Metro Arts SYEP are examples of SYEPs run by non-profits18.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act requires that local communities that receive youth formula funds spend at least 20% of those funds on work experience activities such as summer jobs, pre-apprenticeship, on-the-job training, and internships19.

Implementation Resources

YG-Summer - (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Supporting summer youth employment programs.


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1 Brookings-Modestino 2017 - Modestino AS. How can summer jobs reduce crime among youth? An evaluation of the Boston summer youth employment program. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution; 2017.

2 FRB-Modestino 2017 - Modestino AS. How do summer youth employment programs improve criminal justice outcomes, and for whom? Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. 2017: Community Development Discussion Paper No. 2017-01.

3 NBER-Davis 2017 - Davis JM, Heller SB. Rethinking the benefits of youth employment programs: The heterogenous effects of summer jobs. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2017: Working Paper 23443.

4 Heller 2014 - Heller SB. Summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth. Science. 2014;346(6214):1219-1223.

5 MDRC-Valentine 2017 - Valentine EJ, Anderson C, Hossain F, Unterman R. An introduction to the world of work: A study of the implementation and impacts of New York City's summer youth employment program. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2017.

6 Gelber 2016 - Gelber A, Isen A, Kessler JB. The effects of youth employment: Evidence from New York City lotteries. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 2016;131(1):423-460.

7 PPV-McClanahan 2004 - McClanahan WS, Sipe CL, Smith TJ. Enriching summer work: An evaluation of the summer career exploration program. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures (PPV); 2004.

8 CLMS-Sum 2013 - Sum A, Trubskyy M, McHugh W. The summer employment experiences and the personal/social behaviors of youth violence prevention employment program participants and those of a comparison group. Boston: Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University; 2013.

9 Mathematica-Rosenberg 2011 - Rosenberg L, Angus MH, Pickens C, Derr M. Using TANF funds to support subsidized youth employment: The 2010 summer youth employment initiative. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2011.

10 Modestino 2019 - Modestino AS, Paulsen RJ. Reducing inequality summer by summer: Lessons from an evaluation of the Boston Summer Youth Employment Program. Evaluation and Program Planning. 2019;72:40–53.

11 Mathematica-Bellotti 2010 - Bellotti J, Rosenberg L, Sattar S, Esposito AM, Ziegler J. Reinvesting in America’s youth: Lessons from the 2009 recovery act summer youth employment initiative. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2010.

12 BHS-Curnan 2010 - Curnan SP, Hahn AB, Bailis LN, et al. Innovating under pressure: The story of the 2009 recovery act summer youth employment initiative: Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis & Marion County, Phoenix & Maricopa County. Waltham: Center for Youth and Communities, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University; 2010.

13 NBER-Schwartz 2015 - Schwartz AE, Leos-Urbel J, Wiswall M. Making summer matter: The impact of youth employment on academic performance. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2015: Working Paper 21470.

14 Leos-Urbel 2014 - Leos-Urbel J. What is a summer job worth? The impact of summer youth employment on academic outcomes. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 2014;33(4):891-911.

15 UM YPL-Jacob 2018 - Jacob B, Lovett K, Gross M. Grow Detroit’s young talent. Detroit: Youth Policy Lab, University of Michigan; 2018.

16 CBPP-Pollack 2017 - Pollack HA. Full employment for the young, too: Well-designed job programs can usher teens and young adults into the labor market. Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2017.

17 Brookings-Ross 2016 - Ross M, Kazis R. Youth summer jobs programs: Aligning ends and means. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2016.

18 BalanceCareers-Doyle 2019 - Doyle A. Summer youth employment programs provide work experience. The Balance Careers; 2019.

19 US DOL-WOIA - U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA). Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: WIOA Overview.