Research on Summer Programs Sheds Light on Employment and Well-Being for Youth

Posted February 14, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young, high-school aged Black male, wearing a blue button-down shirt and a green apron, stands behind a cash register while smiling at the camera. He appears to work in a grocery store.

Two new work­ing papers from the Nation­al Bureau of Eco­nom­ic Research offer sup­port for dis­tinct approach­es to increas­ing equi­ty in employ­ment for ado­les­cents and young adults. Fund­ed by the Abdul Latif Jameel Pover­ty Action Lab’s Social Pol­i­cy Research Ini­tia­tive and sup­port­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the stud­ies pro­vide valu­able insights that pol­i­cy­mak­ers and fun­ders can use to devel­op effec­tive youth work­force strategies.

The papers are based on ran­dom­ized con­trolled stud­ies about sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­grams — research that’s aligned with Casey’s broad­er com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing the job skills of young peo­ple and expand­ing their oppor­tu­ni­ties in the work­force.

One Sum­mer Chica­go Plus and WorkReady

When Scale and Repli­ca­tion Work: Learn­ing from Sum­mer Youth Employ­ment Exper­i­ments” reports the results from tri­als that looked at how near­ly 10,000 youth par­tic­i­pants in two sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­grams — One Sum­mer Chica­go Plus (OCS+) and Philadel­phia Youth Network’s WorkReady — fared in crim­i­nal jus­tice involve­ment, well-being, school engage­ment and oth­er fac­tors. One of the things researchers want­ed to assess: how sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­grams change as they grow and exam­ine the effects of pro­gram adap­ta­tion. Their ratio­nale? Out­comes data can go beyond show­ing whether pro­grams work to iden­ti­fy­ing which stand the best chance of ben­e­fit­ting more peo­ple or suc­ceed­ing in dif­fer­ent places and with dif­fer­ent groups of participants.

This ver­sa­til­i­ty, the think­ing goes, might be just as impor­tant as a model’s orig­i­nal effec­tive­ness for pol­i­cy­mak­ers try­ing to deter­mine where to invest pub­lic dol­lars, as it presents a more com­plete pic­ture of the dif­fer­ence a pro­gram can ulti­mate­ly make.

OCS+ is a dis­creet pro­gram area embed­ded in One Sum­mer Chica­go, the city’s Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Sup­port Ser­vices sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­gram for young peo­ple ages 16 to 21. OSC+ focus­es on serv­ing stu­dents who attend high schools in neigh­bor­hoods with high lev­els of vio­lence. In 2015, the pro­gram near­ly tripled in size — from its ini­tial cohort of 700 youth in 2012 — to place 2,000 par­tic­i­pants through 19 agency providers. Besides this growth, the pro­gram also was adapt­ed to include a longer train­ing peri­od and changes to the sup­ple­men­tal cur­ricu­lum par­tic­i­pants received.

WorkReady, a city­wide sum­mer jobs pro­gram for youth ages 1421, has been oper­at­ing in Philadel­phia for more than 15 years. In 2017 and 2018, the pro­gram was imple­ment­ed with sev­er­al vari­a­tions in design and deliv­ery to test whether these fac­tors would affect how par­tic­i­pants fared. For exam­ple, ran­dom­ized lot­ter­ies were used to assign study par­tic­i­pants to dif­fer­ent providers, all of which offered pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and one of three pro­gram mod­els but var­ied in empha­sis and structure.

The stud­ies’ find­ings sug­gest that sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­grams are par­tic­u­lar­ly well-posi­tioned to expand and adapt to dif­fer­ent con­texts. Researchers found that the pro­grams reduced crim­i­nal jus­tice involve­ment and, based on find­ings from the eval­u­a­tion of WorkReady, may decrease the need for child pro­tec­tive ser­vices or behav­ioral health treat­ment. These find­ings should have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for pol­i­cy­mak­ers who must find ways to address per­sis­tent social inequities with lim­it­ed resources. Fur­ther­more, when pro­grams are expand­ed and adapt­ed, they are more like­ly to reach the young peo­ple who need them most.

Rec­om­men­da­tion Let­ters and Youth Employment

In the sec­ond study, The Effects of Let­ters of Rec­om­men­da­tion in the Youth Labor Mar­ket,” researchers used a New York City sum­mer employ­ment pro­gram for youth ages 14 to 24 — with approx­i­mate­ly 83,000 youth who par­tic­i­pat­ed in 2016 or 2017 — to chart the rela­tion­ship between rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters and how pro­gram par­tic­i­pants fared when they sought per­ma­nent jobs.

Employ­ers were giv­en access to soft­ware that quick­ly and eas­i­ly gen­er­at­ed rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters for sum­mer youth employ­ment pro­gram par­tic­i­pants who had worked under their super­vi­sion. Per­son­al­ized let­ters were pro­duced for 9,000 ran­dom­ly select­ed youth over two years, and researchers tracked their job-search progress, find­ing a sig­nif­i­cant increase in employ­ment over the year fol­low­ing receipt of a let­ter when com­pared with a con­trol group that did not have let­ters gen­er­at­ed for them — along with increased earn­ings over the two-year fol­low-up period.

Youth who received let­ters were more like­ly to include them with their job appli­ca­tions but oth­er­wise showed no behav­ioral dif­fer­ences from the con­trol group. For exam­ple, search efforts, moti­va­tion and con­fi­dence were sim­i­lar for both sets — indi­cat­ing that the high­er suc­cess rate of appli­cants with let­ters stemmed from the response on the employ­er side. One like­ly fac­tor is that the let­ters work to effi­cient­ly sig­nal the cred­i­bil­i­ty of youth work­ers to poten­tial employers.

Youth of col­or who received a rec­om­men­da­tion let­ter had a greater like­li­hood of being employed than those who did not, sug­gest­ing the pro­gram and oth­ers like it might be use­ful in lev­el­ing the play­ing field and equi­tably expand­ing employ­ment opportunities.

This research helps clar­i­fy how pro­grams can be expand­ed to serve more young peo­ple and help put them on the path to employ­ment, and the pos­i­tive effects for oth­er areas of their lives,” says Casey senior asso­ciate Alli­son Holmes, who super­vised the Foundation’s invest­ment in the stud­ies. The find­ings are par­tic­u­lar­ly promis­ing for youth of col­or, who often expe­ri­ence racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing and the workplace.”

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