Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks often of narrowing the vast gap that exists between the rich and the poor in New York City. His administration could make a real impact in this area by retooling the city’s inadequate summer jobs program so that more high school students get work experiences that put them in position to compete for full-time jobs later on. A new proposal by the Community Service Society, a New York nonprofit group, makes a strong case for a universal summer jobs program that would be open to all high school students.
The value of summer employment was underscored in a 2015 report by JPMorgan Chase, which found that it yielded year-round benefits. Young people who worked over the summer were less likely to get in trouble with the law, had better performance at school and were 86 percent more likely to have jobs the following year.
Work opportunities for young people began to dry up at the end of the 1990s, when Congress restructured a federally financed summer programthat once provided work experiences for half a million young people each year. The recession made it even harder for the young, who had to compete with more experienced workers who had lost their jobs.
Across the country, about 20 percent of young people who seek summer jobs cannot find them. Minority teenagers, who typically live in areas that have few businesses, have a much harder time finding work.
The city runs a summer jobs program that cost about $80 million last year and employed 55,000 young people, most of them high school students. But only about half of those who applied by lottery got a spot. The program is financed mainly by the city, and funding typically remains uncertain until the last minute. As a result, the community organizations that place young people in jobs often don’t know how much money is available until just days before the program begins in July.
On such short notice, the organizations can do little more than rush teenagers into jobs at summer camps or positions for which they have not been screened and for which they might not be suited. And because entry is based on lottery, it is highly unlikely that a teenager will be able to participate in two consecutive years. This means that many miss out on the benefits that several years of summer work would offer.
The Community Service Society proposal would make the program universal so that every high school student who wanted a job could have one. Under the proposal, placement organizations would work with an entire school over the course of the year to develop job opportunities that relate to each student’s interests and academic experiences. Screening and other preparation could begin many months in advance, with outreach to encourage more companies to take on young workers.
A well-planned, expanded program that served 110,000 young people would probably cost about $242 million. The city would not have to come up with all of it but could seek help from the state and federal governments. It could start with a pilot program that covers, say, about 20 of the city’s 438 or so high schools.
Given the profound difference that meaningful, career-related summer jobs can make in the lives of the young, this proposal is well worth pursuing.