Study: Early Work Experience and Supportive Adults A Boon to Low-Income Youth

Posted December 6, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young person at work with colleagues

Young peo­ple who grow up in low-income house­holds often face steep chal­lenges on the road to adulthood.

But three fac­tors — a post-sec­ondary degree, ear­ly labor mar­ket expe­ri­ence and work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that include pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with adults — can improve their future suc­cess, accord­ing to a new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Path­ways to High-Qual­i­ty Jobs for Young Adults exam­ines employ­ment out­comes for young peo­ple from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds and iden­ti­fies expe­ri­ences that can increase their chance of land­ing good jobs lat­er in life. Among its key findings:

  • A col­lege degree is the strongest pre­dic­tor of a high-qual­i­ty job among young adults who were dis­ad­van­taged as ado­les­cents, high­light­ing education’s poten­tial as an equal­iz­ing force.
  • Work-based learn­ing expe­ri­ences in high school, includ­ing intern­ships and appren­tice­ships, that incor­po­rate pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with adults still affect job qual­i­ty a decade lat­er, where­as the effects of oth­er train­ing pro­grams can fade over time.
  • Hav­ing a job as a teenag­er (ages 16 to 18) pre­dicts high­er job qual­i­ty in adult­hood, as do high­er wages at age 23.
  • Pre­vi­ous incar­cer­a­tion is asso­ci­at­ed with low­er job qual­i­ty at age 29.

While not entire­ly sur­pris­ing, these find­ings — and the method­ol­o­gy used to obtain them — cer­tain­ly add weight to what we’ve long heard from youth- and young-adult-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions about the impor­tance of ear­ly work expe­ri­ence and sup­port­ive adult rela­tion­ships,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion. The data show us the pow­er these inter­ven­tions can hold in help­ing to lev­el the play­ing field and pre­pare more young adults to reach their full potential.”

Authored by the Brook­ings Met­ro­pol­i­tan Pol­i­cy Pro­gram and Child Trends, the report also shares four rec­om­men­da­tions for improv­ing the employ­ment prospects of young peo­ple who are grow­ing up in dis­ad­van­taged house­holds. It advises:

  • Strength­en­ing the work-based learn­ing ele­ments of career and tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion in high school.
  • Sup­port­ing efforts to raise com­ple­tion rates for post-sec­ondary degrees, with an explic­it focus on qual­i­ty and equity.
  • Improv­ing on-ramps to employ­ment for teens and young adults, par­tic­u­lar­ly for those with­out post-sec­ondary credentials.
  • Pro­mot­ing fur­ther research and action on the role of pos­i­tive adult rela­tion­ships in employ­ment and train­ing pro­grams that serve youth and young adults.

The report focus­es on young peo­ple born between 1980 and 1984. It uses data from the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics’ Nation­al Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Sur­vey of Youth 1997 to explore how par­tic­u­lar employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and train­ing expe­ri­ences affect job qual­i­ty. Under­stand­ing which fac­tors help or hin­der employ­ment prospects can spur bet­ter poli­cies and prac­tices that equip more young peo­ple with the skills and train­ing need­ed to suc­ceed in the evolv­ing labor market.

Now that we have this infor­ma­tion, it’s time to move the con­ver­sa­tion toward the pol­i­cy and prac­tice changes that can make a dif­fer­ence in young people’s lives,” says Gerber.


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