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Summer youth employment

What is it?

Many young people seek summer jobs to gain valuable workforce experience and have a safe, productive way to spend their summer months when they are out of school. But youth summer employment rates — like youth employment more generally — have fallen dramatically over the past few decades. Research has shown that summer employment is higher among teens from wealthy families than teens from poor families, and that White youth are significantly more likely to find summer jobs than young people of color: summer employment among 16- to 19-year-olds Whites was about 34 percent in 2015, compared with 19 percent for their Black peers.

For low-income teens and youth of color, municipal jobs programs can be an important bridge to summer work experience. Summer youth employment programs create opportunities for paid summer employment for youth within a specified age range, usually for a period of four to eight weeks. These programs provide subsidized wages for young people who work at selected employers during the summer, and often integrate other supports. Participants may work in a variety of entry-level jobs for employers including government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, nonprofit retail companies, and other small businesses. Summer employment programs are not proven to positively impact future employment, earnings, or academic achievement, but they can give young people opportunities to develop work experience, soft skills, and professional relationships that can help them transition into longer-term employment — which may be especially important for low-income youth and young people of color who do not have access to the same networks and social capital as their affluent White counterparts.

Summer youth employment programs can help young people build financial capability at the critical moment of earning their first paychecks. Research shows that a low-income child with a savings account in their own name is four times more likely to complete college. In addition to workforce skills, summer youth employment programs can offer financial education and a safe infrastructure for young people to learn how to save and avoid high-cost, predatory financial services such as payday lenders and check-cashing services.

In addition to the PolicyLink resources listed on the right, see the Brookings Institution and Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for more resources on summer youth employment.

Who implements it?

  • Elected and appointed city officials can establish a citywide or neighborhood-based summer youth employment program.
  • Business leaders can support summer youth employment by agreeing to hire a certain number of youth every summer, or offering donations to help fund job placements at nonprofits and government agencies.
  • Community-based organizations and other advocates can hire youth as part of the employer base for summer youth employment programs and can also work with city leaders to ensure that programs effectively serve youth with the greatest need.

Key considerations

Successful summer youth employment programs include multiple points of entry into the program, meeting youth where they are; high-quality mentorship and relationships with adults to help youth focus on their futures; and comprehensive financial capability services to ensure that youth learn the skills needed to plan for and build long-term financial security. Cities seeking to implement summer youth employment programs must consider a range of practical and logistical questions.

  • Private sector partnerships: Private sector partners are critical to the success of any youth employment program, as the business community will serve as the largest source of job placements and can also contribute funding.
  • Targeting underserved populations: Summer jobs programs can have a multiplier effect for low-income youth. With additional coaching and mentorship, summer employment can help youth build life skills beyond the demands of their particular job. Unless they are connected to more intensive year-round services, however, summer youth employment programs alone are not adequate to meet the needs of young people who are disconnected from school and work.
  • Connected and streamlined systems: High-quality summer employment programs require streamlined systems to coordinate the many stakeholders involved. Data collection infrastructure is necessary to track and follow-up with youth throughout the program and beyond. Coaches, mentors, business partners, and nonprofit organizations all contribute to the quality and success of a summer youth employment program.
  • Connection to regional workforce plans: Successful summer youth employment programs should align with regional workforce development needs and goals, both to ensure the long-term viability of the programs and to help reduce the skills gaps facing a given region.
  • Sustainability: Youth employment programs should be rooted in the goal of long-term regional economic success and should target their efforts accordingly. This includes ensuring permanent funding sources and building lasting partnerships with anchor institutions such as hospitals, banks, universities, and government agencies.

Where is it working?

Summer youth employment programs should be tailored to the workforce needs and market conditions of a given city or metropolitan area. The most effective programs include clear job responsibilities, engaged supervisors, and additional training or workshops on topics such as job readiness, career exploration, and financial literacy.

  • The One Summer Chicago Plus program in Chicago places youth in summer jobs and offers on-site mentoring and training related to social-emotional learning skills. Youth work in community gardens or as office assistants, and site mentors work with the youth employees in small groups, at a ratio of 1:10. All youth receive mentorship and coaching in addition to the job opportunity itself, and 50 percent of the participants replace some of their job hours with a formal social-emotional learning curriculum. In 2016, more than 31,000 Chicago youth participated in the city’s One Summer jobs program, earning $22 million in wages — about $13 million of which went to support their families and local businesses, and about $9 million of which they saved to support their future goals. One program evaluation showed a 43 percent reduction in violent crime arrests over 16 months for participating youth.
  • The Boston summer youth employment program, in operation for more than 20 years, has become a model program for the nation. It relies on city, state, and private funding to connect about 10,000 city teens each summer with roughly 900 local employers. During the summer, teens work a maximum of 25 hours per week for a six-week period. Students may be placed in either a subsidized position (e.g., with a local nonprofit, community-based organization, or city agency) or a job with a private-sector employer, arranged by one of four intermediaries under contract with the City of Boston. According to a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, participants in the 2015 Boston program made significant progress in job readiness skills (such as having a résumé and cover letter) and in their attitudes toward the community, as more participants felt connected to their community and felt they could make positive contributions.