Summer youth employment programs

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 curriculum (Brookings-Modestino 2017).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Decreased crime

  • Decreased violence

  • Increased employment

  • Increased earnings

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased job skills

  • Increased social emotional skills

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that summer youth employment programs (SYEP) decrease arrests for violent crime (FRB-Modestino 2017, NBER-Davis 2017*, Heller 2014*). Programs also increase employment and earnings for youth during the year that they participate (MDRC-Valentine 2017, Gelber 2016*, PPV-McClanahan 2004), especially disadvantaged youth (Gelber 2016*). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Program participation may decrease risky and violent behaviors (CLMS-Sum 2013). 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 participation (NBER-Davis 2017*, Heller 2014*). 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 males (FRB-Modestino 2017). 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 youth (Gelber 2016*). Effects on property crime vary; in Boston, property crimes declined (FRB-Modestino 2017) while in Chicago property crime arrests increased 2-3 years after participation (NBER-Davis 2017*).

Although employment and earnings increase in the year of program participation, summer work experience programs do not appear to increase employment rates in following years (NBER-Davis 2017*, MDRC-Valentine 2017, PPV-McClanahan 2004), perhaps due to the short length of the intervention (PPV-McClanahan 2004) or because participants might have found longer term job opportunities without program support (Gelber 2016*). However, in some cases, participation slightly increases the likelihood of having a job in the long-term (NBER-Davis 2017*, Gelber 2016*). The largest positive employment effects do not appear to be in the disconnected youth usually targeted by summer jobs programs (NBER-Davis 2017*).

Evaluations of both local and federally supported, state-implemented programs suggest summer youth employment may increase soft skills (Mathematica-Rosenberg 2011) and job readiness skills (Modestino 2019*, FRB-Modestino 2017, Mathematica-Bellotti 2010), and provide personal and professional development opportunities for at-risk youth (BHS-Curnan 2010). Such programs may also increase community engagement (Modestino 2019*, FRB-Modestino 2017).

Evaluations of summer jobs provided through New York City’s SYEP suggest such programs may increase the likelihood of taking and passing statewide exams (NBER-Schwartz 2015*, Leos-Urbel 2014*), particularly among high-risk students (Leos-Urbel 2014*). However, they do not appear to increase school attendance, high school graduation (MDRC-Valentine 2017), or college enrollment (MDRC-Valentine 2017, Gelber 2016*). 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 skills (UM YPL-Jacob 2018). Boston’s SYEP increased academic aspirations for participants (Modestino 2019*, FRB-Modestino 2017), while Chicago’s program had no significant impact on attendance, GPA, or persistence in school (NBER-Davis 2017*).

Experts suggest that ideal candidates for SYEPs are disadvantaged youth and young adults who are still in school and are reasonable candidates for employment (CBPP-Pollack 2017). 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 resources (Brookings-Ross 2016).

Impact on Disparities

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-profits (BalanceCareers-Doyle 2019).

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 internships (US DOL-WOIA).

Implementation Resources

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

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2017.

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

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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

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