The Life-and-Death Consequences of Summer Jobs Programs

PoliticoAnd five other surprising takeaways from research into the programs that big-city mayors love to brag about.

Since the 1960s, big-city mayors have touted the virtues of summer jobs programs for inner-city kids with almost religious faith.

Paying a couple of thousand dollars to local businesses to give poor kids an entry-level job for six weeks would reap big rewards down the road, the thinking went. Even a minimum wage job would prepare young people for entry into the job market; give them an incentive to stay in school, stay off the streets and out of jail; and even bring home some cash to help out their hardworking parents.

“It’s hard to find a mayor who doesn’t love them,” says Martha Ross, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. “They’re the political equivalent of a ribbon cutting.”

But do these programs really work? For years, no one measured whether summer jobs programs actually achieved what city halls simply presumed they did. Rigorous examination of those claims was hampered by the time it would take to dig through the records from the nonprofits and private companies that provided the jobs, says Alicia Modestino, a labor economist at Northeastern University.

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