Summer jobs programs: What do we know?

AliciaSasserModestinoBy Associate Director Alicia Sasser Modestino for the Brookings Blog

The well-documented drop in teen employment rates has raised concerns that it is becoming more difficult for teens to find pathways into the labor market, particularly for African-American and Latino teens living in neighborhoods with fewer job opportunities. Admittedly, for some teens working has been replaced by other enriching activities such as coding camps, SAT test prep, or travel—things that look good on a college application. But for others who might not be college-bound, the lack of early work experience can negatively affect employment and earnings later in life.

In response, policymakers and community leaders across the U.S. have increased their focus on summer youth employment programs (SYEP). In the past, summer jobs programs received dedicated federal funding to subsidize teen employment for low-income and minority youth as a way to increase family earnings, improve future employment prospects, and reduce crime. Today, city leaders are also hoping to use summer jobs programs as a lever to reduce inequality by teaching job readiness and financial capability skills, boosting academic and career aspirations, as well as promoting youth leadership and community engagement.

But what do we know about the potential for SYEPs to achieve these lofty goals?  After all, teens typically work in their summer job placements for only 20 to 25 hours per week over a six-week stretch. How much of a difference can such a short-term intervention be expected to make?  For whom are the impacts the greatest? Which features of the program are driving the outcomes?

A new Brookings paper, Youth summer jobs programs: Aligning ends and means, asserts that we need better answers to those questions than are currently available. While recent evaluations link summer jobs programs to reduced criminal activity and incarceration and to improved academic outcomes, the research base is not robust enough to support generalized assertions about program efficacy. Nor has existing research conclusively linked these programs to subsequent increases in employment and earnings.

Read the full article here.

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