J-PAL Voices: The Impact and Promise of Summer Jobs in the United States

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In this podcast from J-PAL North America, we bring you the stories behind the impact. Hear from advocates and program coordinators, researchers, and most importantly, the participants themselves about why summer jobs programs matter to them and why they should matter for all of us.

Episode 6: Change the Narrative

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Narrator
In interviewing people for this series, I have usually ended interviews with an open-ended question: What final takeaway did the interviewee want to leave listeners with? Here’s what Angela Rudolph, Deputy Commissioner for Youth Affairs in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, told me.

Angela Rudolph
I think far too often, we have this sense as older people that young people are lazy, young people aren't really interested in doing that much. And one of the biggest lessons that I walked away from this summer with, was the deep and unabiding desire that young people have to feel like they have agency and the ability to make things better.

Narrator
To hear Angela speak about this desire in Chicago’s youth, was to also hear her counterpart in New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, Senior Director of Youth Employment Programs Julia Breitman.

Julia Breitman
People complain about lazy teenagers, or what not. But that's not an experience that any of us have ever seen. To give you an example, our program receives typically about 150,000 applications a year for less than half the jobs. This year, we received over 137,000 applications. The application was only open for a week because it was a reinstatement, and we were only able to hire about 35,000 young people. So, you could see the need and the desire of young people to work.

Narrator
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode Six: Change the Narrative.

Narrator
In 1988, Father Greg Boyle, pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, founded Jobs for a Future, a jobs training program for youth involved with gang activity and violence. An aphorism often associated with Father Boyle, that “nothing stops a bullet like a job”, came out of his work with Jobs for a Future, which subsequently became Homeboy Industries.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
The reduction in crime that we find is strongly correlated with improvements in these soft skills and community engagement, such as resolving conflict with a peer, but really not correlated with raising academic aspirations or your job readiness skills. So, it's really not so much that nothing stops a bullet like a job, in terms of at least the job readiness part of it. But it's really more about getting to practice those soft skills with supervisors and other coworkers. And you can think about being able to replicate those experiences maybe in other settings, right?

Narrator
That’s Northeastern University economist Alicia Sasser-Modestino discussing her research showing that Boston’s summer jobs program leads to reductions in violent crime. Rashad Cope, the Director of the Department of Youth Engagement and Employment with the City of Boston, spoke with me about how they are moving forward based on the research findings.

Rashad Cope
Her research has also told us that summer jobs, in some ways, increases young people's, aspirations around academic achievement and young people, by virtue of participating in summer jobs––and maybe that's them being connected to mentors and coaches and leaders and healthy adults––it increases the likelihood that they may be interested to go on to pursue postsecondary education. And that's really incredible. And then also, some of her studies have also linked back to how summer jobs, within a community like the City of Boston, improves behavioral outcomes, and young people are more engaged by way of them participating in summer jobs.
 
Alicia Sasser-Modestino
I think we're seeing in Boston, just because we can collect the data and we can measure it, that there are these behavioral changes that happen from having a job. And I think the other thing that people don't realize is, even though it's a six-week program, if there's something that happens during those six weeks, that's transformational for that one youth that puts them on a different path, you're going to get these longer-term outcomes. Cause I think people might question, “How can a six-week program affect somebody in the next year or two after participating?” But, I went to one of the Summer jobs celebrations that they have at the end of the year for the Boston private industry council. And we did a focus group with youth there who worked for Sanofi Genzyme. So, big biotech company in Boston. And one of the youth in there was a young African-American male. And he talked about his job and how he had been assigned to IT at Sanofi Genzyme. And he was really not excited about this job initially, because he thought it was boring compared to all the cool lab stuff that they do. But then, he realized that the rest of the organization can't operate without IT. And he was managing databases and that if the database goes down, everything stops at Sanofi Genzyme. And so, he was this crucial component of keeping things going. And he started rattling off all sorts of like technical stuff that I don't even remember exactly what it was. But you could tell that this is a transformational experience for him, that he had not even thought about these kinds of operations going on. How critical this kind of infrastructure was and how interesting this kind of career path could be.

Rashad Cope
They're more engaged because they develop a sense of who they are by participating in summer jobs. They develop increased competency in certain areas, they know how to deal with conflict resolution, and they just know how to engage better with adults and peers. So, I think Alicia has been really, really important to the work here in the city of Boston around summer jobs and we are continuing to find ways to work with Alicia to advance her work around reducing inequalities among young people through summer youth employment by creating just high-quality workforce development experiences and making sure that we, together and collectively, are preparing youth for educational and career pathways into adulthood.

Narrator
In a 2015 interview with the Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney that we will link to in the show notes, Father Boyle echoed much of what Alicia and Rashad told me. While jobs are important, he identified resilience and the right guidance at a time when people are figuring out their place in the world, as critical factors.
 
Sara Heller
In this time when we're sort of talking about alternatives to policing and what can we invest in that might help violence, summer jobs programs are not going to fix all the problems, they're not going to fix systemic racism, there's a lot of big changes that society needs. But it is, I think, one piece of the puzzle when you ask what programs could we invest in that aren't policing that might keep kids out of the criminal justice system and help improve their lives and it seems like this might be one of them.

Narrator
Sara Heller is an economist at the University of Michigan who has evaluated Chicago’s summer jobs program. As she notes, summer jobs programs are not going to create a pathway to jobs entirely by themselves, nor are they going to solve the problem of violence and crime entirely. But they can be part of an effective package of solutions.

Sara Heller
Thinking about all of the societal discussions right now about institutional racism in the criminal justice system and alternatives to policing, I think summer jobs programs can't be the answer. There needs to be a lot of systemic change, a lot of conversations at a lot of levels to address the scope of the problem. But I think they can be an answer. That they're part of a package of things that when we say, well, what could we spend money on that is going to help reduce violence? That's going to help keep youth and especially minority youth out of the criminal justice system that's not policing? And there is good evidence that these programs do that. And so, I don't think that they can operate at a scope. I don't think the size of the changes that they induce have any hope of solving the problem entirely, but I think they can absolutely be part of the package of programming that city governments and state governments are thinking about in terms of how to reduce violence and reduce criminal justice contact in a way that doesn't involve the police.

Narrator
Moreover, as Alicia Sasser-Modestino’s research in Boston tells us, summer jobs programs teach kids resilience, soft skills, and conflict resolution. And they offer individuals hope and opportunity when they clearly desire it, something that Angela Rudolph in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services sees as a large part of the value of summer jobs programs.

Angela Rudolph
Yes, having a job is helpful and it does have an impact on violence. But it's not just the job, right? [Cut: It is all of those things that we learned many years before, around youth development in general, that] The way that you help young people, isn't just by giving them a wage. You help young people by making sure that they understand that there are people out here who care about them and who are invested in their success, and who are going to be there for them if they run into difficulty and if they are trying to figure things out. Young people are also looking to feel useful and looking to feel connected to someone. That's also a part of what the job, in this case the One Summer Chicago Plus, brought to the table.

Danielle Ellman
Summer youth employment program has a qualitative effect on what they think about their future and their locus of control for future, right? Because if I think that life is happening to me, then likely I'm not going to change my experiences and my opportunity. But if I think that I can be self-directed and I can make choices, then I am going to more than likely be that much more successful. And I think the summer youth employment program allows a young person to feel in control, to be employed, to make a decision about what type of job they want to have, who they want to experience that job with what, what is the leading need of how they pick their job. And I think that starts to say, life is in your hands and there are really positive choices that you can make.

Narrator
That’s Danielle Ellman, Chief Executive Officer at Commonpoint Queens in New York, talking about their summer youth Employment program. I asked Danielle how a single program in a single summer could have the sorts of impacts that rigorous research in New York, Boston, and Chicago has found. Where Alicia Sasser-Modestino pointed to the transformational impact of  the summer experience on participants, Danielle highlighted the transformational impact on the groups that serve those participants. Groups like Commonpoint Queens.

Danielle Ellman
For so long, people were like, “Oh, you work in summer youth employment program. That's such a quick thing. It's over in a hot flash.” And I've always pushed back on that notion because it is an intervention in a moment in time that opens the door to so much more that we can do for young people and their families in ways that we wouldn't connect with if not for the fact that they need a summer job.

Erica Chen
It was really nice to see how over three months we were able to get so close and, just saying goodbye to that was like an optimistic moment actually. Cause it was like, we learned all this stuff and now we're gonna carry it into our futures.

Narrator
Erica Chen is currently a first-year college student, carrying forward her experience from previous summers with Commonpoint Queens.

Erica Chen
I think my favorite part of Commonpoint was that it was local and it was a small building and a small group of people working together to serve the youth and the community. I felt that was, there was something so down to earth about that and something so genuine. So, that was one of the aspects that drew me to Commonpoint even more.

Narrator
The importance of community in the success of summer jobs programs is something that we heard about from Rashad Cope back in Episode Two. In addition, Rashad and other program directors noted how much the community can get back from the participants in these programs. Tatiana Arguello, Director of Workforce Development at United Activities Unlimited in Staten Island, New York, is effusive in noting this point.

Tatiana Arguello
A lot of the times, we really frame this as an opportunity for our young people, right? But it is an opportunity for our business community. It is an opportunity for our community as a whole, because when you see what these young people are capable of, when you see how they think. Despite all of this, “Oh, young people are, could be lazy or it could be whatever.” It's not true. They're so compassionate. They're so hard working and they think and act in different ways than maybe some of the older generations. But it's just as valuable. And once you really see how valuable our young people are, and you give them a seat at the table, boom. It could be, it could be a change for the organization. It could be changing for our community. They really are the future and they really deserve a seat at the table. And when they do have that seat at the table, holy moly, I think that our decisions are a lot more thought out and a lot better.

Narrator
At the start of this series, we spoke with economist Larry Katz about his work on the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. The Partnership proposes a set of five interlocking strategies to dramatically increase mobility from poverty. In each episode of this series, we have looked at summer jobs programs through the lens of a different strategy. Ensure zip code is not destiny.

Tatiana Arguello
I think the beauty in the program is really that it is so diverse. And it's not just ethnically diverse, it's diverse with different opinions, with different experiences.

Narrator
Transform data use.

Judd Kessler
This research agenda, at least for me, is a story about the ability of organizations to keep track of data and the availability of the administrative data.

Narrator
Provide support that empowers.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
I am the beneficiary and the product of the investment of many caring adults, the investment of many great educational opportunities and also many great mentors who have helped me along the way.

Narrator
Create access to good jobs.

Erica Chen
What originally led me to apply was, actually just getting exposure to different work fields. Like, I specifically looked into civic engagement because I thought I wanted to go into law at that time. And it gave me experiences and insights that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else.

Narrator
And finally, changing the narrative. The Partnership underlines that “the narratives we use to make sense of the world shape our attitudes and ultimately the policies we devise and endorse”, something that I keep coming back to when speaking with the people involved with these summer jobs programs.

Julia Breitman
The other thing about poverty, is that it's a poverty of understanding of what is open to you.

Narrator
As people like Julia Breitman in New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development repeatedly told me, the desire to progress is there with all young people. For policies to truly encourage and foster mobility from poverty, they must recognize that it is up to us to meet this desire and to empower kids to be agents of change.

Angela Rudolph
And one of the kind of overwhelming themes was this kind of wonder that people had. That they saw things in themselves that they didn’t really recognize beforehand and that they had struggled with, particularly because of what happened with the COVID crisis. And so, I just want people to know that young people are waiting for them to see them, to invest in them, and to really kind of offer themselves as a guide, to kind of figure out what is the way forward.

Narrator
That’s Angela Rudolph in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services.  To close things out, we’ll leave it with one of the youths whom Angela’s department invested in many years ago. Yiping Li participated in Chicago’s One Summer Chicago summer jobs program when she was 13; today, she works with me at J-PAL North America on research and policymaking of the kind that has gone into summer jobs programs.

Yiping Li
I think it was interesting because there was sort of the immediate impact and then the other wave of emotions and reflection that I get when I think back to this program. So initially when I immediately came out of it, I definitely felt more independent, like I could take on these responsibilities. And like I mentioned, it was sort of the summer after I graduated from elementary school and it's going into high school and you certainly don't know what that new next phase of your life is like. And so, having gone through this program, it gave me the confidence that I could take on the next four years, the next chapter of my life, just knowing that I could take on new responsibilities and be more mature.

Narrator
This inaugural season of J-PAL Voices was produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Angela Rudolph, Julia Breitman, Alicia Sasser-Modestino, Rashad Cope, Sara Heller, Danielle Ellman, Erica Chen, Tatiana Arguello, and Yiping Li. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback. Thank you so much for listening and for your support this season.


 

Episode 5: Create Access to Good Jobs

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Julia Breitman  
The distinction between a job and an opportunity and a career was really not something I recognized until it was maybe a little too late. And I think that's the problem for a lot of the young people we serve. They don't have anyone in their lives that can really talk to them about what it means to seek opportunities. Or they don't have the option to be that selective, right? You take the job that will give you the earnings, not necessarily the experience, or the connections.

Narrator
Julia Breitman is the Senior Director of Youth Employment Programs in New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development. She was raised by immigrant parents who were unfamiliar with what opportunities might be available to young Julia. Informed by some unfortunate early job experiences, Julia’s current role is devoted to exposing youth to these opportunities as early as possible.

Larry Katz
We think summer youth employment programs have a lot of potential. But they do need to be, you know, I think there's a lot of work in trying to link them with experiences and connect and create a record for the achievements of kids over the summer so it can have a more persistent impact and be the pathway to good jobs, potentially linking up with other programs which create these more durable employment connections and training. And summer youth jobs could be a first step in that sort of longer run empowerment and improvement in human capital and earnings opportunities.

Narrator
Connections, or access to network, is a crucial part of the theory of change behind how summer jobs programs might foster upward mobility. Larry Katz is a member of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, and his takeaways are echoed by Angela Rudolph, Deputy Commissioner for Youth Services in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services.

Angela Rudolph
One of the bigger hindrances for upward mobility is access to network. It's not just about whether or not you have been exposed to information, or if you are educated. It often comes down to who you know. And so, that in itself lies the opportunity that driven, public invested summer employment programs provide. The opportunity for young people to be able to broaden not just their knowledge about particular fields or particular jobs, but broaden their network of professional people, both to inspire, but also as a way for them to be able to have linkages to someone, to help them to understand and navigate the path forward.

Narrator
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode Five: Create Access to Good Jobs.

Judd Kessler
The jobs that the summer youth employment program generally gives are daycare jobs, day camp jobs, camps outside the city you know, where you get on a bus and you go take some kids somewhere, which are super important, valuable jobs and provide public goods to the community. But, they're not the kinds of jobs that you could do in term time. You know, it's not like a retail job where you can take hours after school and earn money during the school year. And you know, they're generally limited in terms of number of hours, even in the summer.

Narrator
That’s University of Pennsylvania economist Judd Kessler describing the types of jobs available through New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Judd and his team have found that while the program leads to significant reductions in violent crime, incarceration, and mortality, the impact on employment outcomes is more muted.

Judd Kessler
This question of are they giving youth a leg up in their careers or in their future labor market or educational attainment? I think we're surprised to find that in fact, there was no positive benefit that we saw of the program on those outcomes. If anything, what we observed was a slight decrease in earnings for the three years after the program if you got lotteried in and took the job versus didn't.

Narrator
Given that the program is motivated to some extent by the desire to set youth on a path towards good, well-paying jobs, I asked Judd to walk me through what may be driving these results.

Judd Kessler
The interesting thing for us as researchers is, their earnings affects are negative, but that could mean lots of different things. It's not necessarily bad in the sense of, you know, what might happen is I work as a camp counselor and I realized that I love it. I love helping mentor these younger kids. I love providing a benefit to the community, you know, cause a lot of these jobs are with nonprofit camps or nonprofit daycare centers where it's sort of providing a benefit to the community. And so, it could be that what we're doing when youth are in these jobs is that we're sort of training them in something that they end up really liking and want to keep doing. And so, then the earnings results are not as...we're not as aversive to them.

Narrator
As it turns out, the earnings effects are driven by the youth largely returning to the jobs that they fell in love with over the summer, many of which may not be what they want in the long term. Moreover, they may not always be setting themselves up to explore alternative careers, or jobs that would be better career fits for them. And that exploration can be a feature of summer jobs programs, as Rashad Cope in Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment told me.

Rashad Cope
Young people explore career pathways, and I think career pathways is so incredible because you want to make sure that there's early career exploration and connecting young people to careers that they may be interested in. That can be things such as finance, computer science. It could be trades, vocations. It can be, you know, education. So, summer jobs gives them an opportunity to explore career pathways.

Narrator
The opportunity to explore these career pathways is a big attraction for young people like Erica Chen, who spoke glowingly of her time in the Ladders for Leaders program in New York City.

Erica Chen
What originally led me to apply was, actually just getting exposure to different work fields. Like, I specifically looked into civic engagement ‘because I thought I wanted to go into law at that time. And it gave me experiences and insights that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else.

Narrator
Another participant, Habiba Khan, described the career readiness assistance that she received as part of the Ladders for Leaders program with Commonpoint Queens.

Habiba Khan
One of the things that I really liked is in our workbook, a lot of it was about career exploration. So, we were required to research a certain career that we were interested in. So, something that we might research would be like, “Oh, what requirements do you need to, you know, like what education, do you need to become this, you know, to get this position. How long would it take to do this?” How much money might it take? And after finding out more like the technical details of some of this stuff, I think, I’m not as lost as before. Because before, I was like, “Oh my God, there's just so much stuff to do, so many options!” Like where do I, like, I know I'm interested in this field, but even within this field, there's just so many options. So, where do I begin? And I think with the career exploration part of the workbook, I just learned a lot about what I wanted to do. Which is, as of right now, I'm really interested in biomedical engineering. So, I'm planning on going in that pathway.

Judd Kessler
There is this fear, and I think it's a very legitimate fear, that the reason youth return to those jobs and subsequent summers is not because they love the job and they really want to keep doing it. It's because that was the job they had last summer and they don't have the ability or, you know, they're not given a way of translating that work experience into a type of job that they might actually prefer and might be hired.

Narrator
Armed with the earnings and employment results, and knowing the value that broader career exploration and preparedness plays, Judd Kessler is now teaming up with fellow economist Sara Heller and New York City to see how summer youth employment programs can be even more powerful in creating access to the right jobs for each young participant.

Judd Kessler
Sort of motivated by this question of, is there a way to enhance the summer youth employment program so that it can give youth the opportunity having been a participant, to then find their ideal job in the next summer, the next year, and sort of test this question of whether they're gravitating back towards these industries because they really, really want to be there because that's the only thing that they've done before  and that’s where their connections are.

Julia Breitman
And that's the next evolution of the program, is really not just expanding opportunities and creating opportunities, but also tying them to school-day learning. And how that career pathway that I mentioned, for a program that's really for older youth. This is, how do you start that career pathway earlier on at the high school level?

Narrator
Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend at the Philadelphia Youth Network gets a first-hand look every day at the value of early exposure to the right career pathway. 

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
We certainly believe that having early exposure to work not only increases your earning potential later but also gives young people a greater sense of where they might want to invest their energy in terms of a career. And so, what our alums tell us all the time is that right WorkReady was the opportunity that they either learned what they really like to do or what they really did not like to do. And both of those, that lesson is valuable, right? So, it helped them to tailor their interests around studying. It helped them to think through what is the best path for me based on my interest.

Narrator
Given how formative someone’s specific summer experience can be, it is especially important to expand the career pathways and opportunities that youth can consider as they embark on their careers. In studying the summer jobs program in Boston, Northeastern University economist Alicia Sasser-Modestino has found that the program improves job readiness skills, a finding that is especially meaningful in the context of rising inequality in the labor market.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino (~6:28 of Alicia’s Voice Recorder recording)
When I was at the Boston fed six years ago, one of the last things that I worked on was a foundational study of youth employment that revealed a structural decline in labor force participation and employment among youth since 2001, even before the great recession. I found that over half of unemployed teams reported that they were searching for their first job, which suggested that there were fewer pathways for youth to get into the labor market. And that the greatest difficulties were faced by African American and Hispanic teens, especially those from low income families in more impoverished neighborhoods.

Narrator
As the nature of work changes and we shift our focus to recovering equitably from a pandemic that has had unequal impacts, we need to design programs like summer jobs to best prepare our young people for the future. As big as this task is, Chekemma at the Philadelphia Youth Network sees both a challenge and an opportunity.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
And so now, the future of work, the world of work, work as we knew it before COVID is not the same. And so, it is even more critical that we work together so that we ensure that that first job doesn't become extinct for a population of young people, because the economic recovery has to be equitable. And part of being equitable is not just about addressing racial equity or just racial discrimination and injustice. It is also about ensuring that the system connects seamlessly along the developmental trajectory. That means that young people can't be left out of the conversation. That means we've got to knit together, much more closely what's happening in our afterschool programs, our out of school-time programs in our classrooms, towards the needs of our economy. And it also means we have to teach young people, not just about becoming employees, but also about job creation and entrepreneurship. And so, this is an opportunity I see for us to not only continue doing the necessary work of preparing our future workforce, but to expand how we're doing it and to use technology in impactful ways to create a greater impact.

Tatiana Arguello
When you talk about workforce development, a lot of is a new field in the sense of we're focusing on employees now, we're focusing on building skills, we're focused on building resiliency, we're focusing on adaptability.

Angela Rudolph
As young people go through the deck, they kind of acquire more badges that at the end of the program, once they get to becoming a, you know, ready to go to a real brick and mortar job, they can present these badges to show that, you know, I'm someone who knows how it is to be prepared, to be ready on the first day of the job.

Tatiana Arguello
These skills are transferable. It doesn't matter what job you're in right now. But what we do know as an economy is that we need to be able to move the needle and that you aren't probably going to be in the same job that you're in for the rest of your life. You know, if you look, decades ago, it probably was the case that you had your one job and you got to see that through through your lifetime. Now what we're seeing is just more mobility in the job market. We're seeing different kinds of jobs, whether that is actual employees, whether that is that you are more working like a consultant, or if you were working as a gig employee. There's just so many different levels of what it means to be in the workforce nowadays.

Narrator
That was Tatiana Arguello at United Activities Unlimited in Staten Island, New York, talking about how her organization is trying to keep up with the changing demands of the labor market. The challenges seem immense, as summer jobs programs try to simultaneously keep up with the shifting work landscape, a devastating pandemic, and racial and socio-economic inequality. But I am given hope when I hear from the people involved with driving these programs forward. We will hear a lot more on that front in the next episode, the final one of this series. For now, let’s leave it with Julia Breitman at New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development.

Julia Breitman
There's really no better vehicle out of poverty than the self-empowerment that a young person feels with their first job experiences. Our job is to provide those opportunities, provide career exploration, make them believe in themselves, make them see what they're capable of and what's open to them. But it's also our job to be able to provide those opportunities and grow those opportunities. There really is no limit to what we can do with these programs if we have the right resources.

Narrator
J-PAL voices is produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Julia Breitman, Larry Katz, Angela Rudolph, Judd Kessler, Rashad Cope, Erica Chen, Habiba Khan, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, Alicia Sasser-Modestino, and Tatiana Arguello. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback.

Narrator
On the next episode of J-PAL Voices...

Angela Rudolph
I think far too often, we have this sense as older people that young people are lazy, young people aren't really interested in doing that much. Everybody wants to stay linked physically to their devices. And one of the biggest lessons that I walked away from this summer with, was the deep and unabiding desire that young people have to feel like they have agency and the ability to make things better.


 

Episode 4: Provide Support That Empowers

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Danielle Ellman 
The agency, as hokey as our name is Commonpoint, we want to be the common point within community. We want to be the one thing that a family can have in common with each other. So, again, it's not atypical that you might have a family, for instance, who lost a parent in COVID. And because we have a mental health clinic, we have that parent in bereavement counseling while we're supporting the young person in supports in high school while we're supporting, you know, the other child in the family in some sort of after-school program that is for free. And so, we really try to look holistically at all families.

Narrator
Commonpoint Queens is a community-based organization in New York City’s borough of Queens. They provide career readiness training and paid employment opportunities under New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. As CEO Danielle Ellman tells me, those programs are just one part of Commonpoint’s broader commitment to its community.

Danielle Ellman
You can come to Commonpoint Queens to have your first parenting experience with a newborn toddler. You can come to Commonpoint Queens for assistance when your older parent is aging and is in need of support for social adult day care. We have mental health clinics. We have afterschool programs, day camps, NORCs, senior centers, sports, health, and wellness. You name it, we have it, where we're a pretty one-stop shop social service agency in the borough of Queens.

Narrator
Summer Youth Employment Programs empower youth by teaching them valuable skills and building up critical social networks. In addition, they serve as a valuable entry point into a broader support system.

Danielle Ellman
The connector again, is the thing that grabs a young person's attention is a summer job, but that summer job is packaged in a whole host of social services and educational opportunities to really make sure that we as a community are putting our arms around these young people and embracing them.

Narrator
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode Four: Provide Support That Empowers.

Danielle Glick
We serve as that connection for youth that might not otherwise have it. So, we become that networking piece. We become that, you know, support in helping them write a resume or prepare for an interview. We link them to their first job or their first work experience to help them build their resumes and sort of create that stepping stone for them. So, when they are ready to go out into the real world, they feel prepared. So, that's where we come in and we offer the social and emotional supports, we, we do it all.

Narrator
In her role as the Assistant Vice President of High School and College Success at Commonpoint Queens, Danielle Glick thinks a lot about how to set Commonpoint’s youth up for success in the real world. The support that Commonpoint provides runs the gamut, from helping participants with specific skills like resume writing, to thinking more broadly about the needs of participants’ families.

Danielle Ellman
We reached out to our high school students and said, “If we can be helpful, let us know.” And we delivered breakfast in bed to all of our single moms out there. And then we did the same thing for Father's Day, but in a way that we did it through the kids. So, if Danielle Ellman was a young person who was at SYEP, we dropped the bag to the young person so that they could deliver breakfast in bed to their moms, just because they couldn't get out and they also were cut off from employment at that point in time. So, you know, it's those kinds of things where once you're in our systems, we're able to communicate with you. You're able to communicate with us.

Benjamin Babayev
My family loved it. It gave me something to do in the summer. I wasn't just like being lazy and it gave me something to do. So, they loved how I was also interacting with my community more. I was being aware of the issues around myself. So, they said that they know that I grew as a person a little bit this summer because of Commonpoint Queens.

Narrator
Organizations like Commonpoint Queens play a vital role in connecting youth across communities, and helping them feel empowered within these communities. As the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardized summer jobs programs across the country, Angela Rudolph at Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services tried to salvage the essential elements of these programs. 

Angela Rudolph
We had a number of conversations with the agencies that we fund, we call them delegates. And one of the things that we learned from delegate agencies was that young people were really challenged by what they had lost. They had lost the ability to kind of have business as usual. They lost the ability to interact with the people that they cared about. And it wasn't just their friends. It was around teachers or coaches or folks in programs who really helped to ground some young people who had challenging circumstances. And so, for us, we wanted to figure out ways that we could really build a program that would center all of those things and help people felt like they were gaining something when we got to the summertime.

Narrator
Angela and her colleagues focused on the elements of the One Summer Chicago program that are most important: enabling community, providing opportunities for learning, and above all, empowering by providing hope. Nearly ten years since she participated in the program, my colleague Yiping Li reflected on the role that the program plays every summer.

Yiping Li
I think, we always talk about summer melt and people losing their learning from the school year. And I think it's one of those things that also happens when you are sort of just inactive over the summer and you don't have any meaningful activities to keep yourself engaged. And also you exert so much time thinking about planning your summer when you have limited network and maybe you don't know a lot of people, maybe you don't have a local community center or it isn't open and you are spending so much energy trying to plan for your summer that eventually you get exhausted and you feel a little bit hopeless when you don't have plans.

Narrator
So how do summer jobs programs empower their youth through these short summer experiences? What supports do they provide people like Yiping? I asked Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, about her vision for Philadelphia’s WorkReady summer jobs programs.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
We want these opportunities to be a space where young people are bolstered, right, where they can make the connection to what they're learning in school and what their future career goals will be. We want the experience to be a place where young people will find an adult that they can connect with in order to get some of that guidance that they need in order to think about their next steps.

Narrator
Program directors like Chekemma in Philadelphia and Angela in Chicago identify connection and learning as aspirational goals for summer jobs programs. The research bears out that these are, indeed, crucial channels through which these programs help youth navigate relationships. Alicia Sasser-Modestino is an economist at Northeastern University who has studied Boston’s summer jobs program in great detail.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
Summer jobs programs help youth develop these relationships with adults and peers that are critical in that process. So, we can think about the early work experience that summer jobs are giving youth to have an opportunity to engage in tasks that help them develop a sense of agency, identity, competency that's necessary for taking on these adult roles.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
I am the beneficiary and the product of the investment of many caring adults, the investment of many great educational opportunities and also many great mentors who have helped me along the way.
And I can remember those mentors all the way back to second grade until now, people who are still advising me on how to be the best President, you know, best President and CEO, the best wife, the best mom. I'm always, I've always been fortunate to have people helping guide me. And so, when I came to the Philadelphia Youth Network, that was an opportunity for me to create more opportunities.

Narrator
In Episode Two, Rashad Cope took us through his journey from being a participant in Boston’s summer jobs program to now playing a key role in managing the program. His story is echoed in the experiences of Chekemma at the Philadelphia Youth Network and Danielle Ellman at Commonpoint Queens. Recognizing the crucial role that adult mentors played in setting them up for success, these program leaders now ensure that the next generation of youth have the same opportunity to build supportive connections.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
The other thing that we hear a lot about is the networking skills and also the social capital that young people are gaining. I mean, I think that alone is very valuable to thinking through what are my plans for my future. And also, we hear from participants often that the experience that they have with WorkReady sometimes is the first time that they fill-in-the-blank, right? The first time that I went into an office, the first time that I navigated public transportation. And what it builds in young people is confidence, right? It builds confidence. It builds curiosity. It builds their ability, the resilience in them. And so, they learn that they can accomplish things that they had not, they had not previously done.

Narrator
This resilience that Chekemma identifies carries over outside the work environment. Some of the biggest impacts from summer jobs programs are felt in decreases in violent crime. Economist Sara Heller lays out how the inter-personal skills that youth gain while working summer jobs, also translate to inter-personal interactions in their daily lives.

Sara Heller
When I talked to one of the employers at these programs, I asked him what he saw as his job as a supervisor on these programs. And he said that the biggest problem that the kids have when they show up in his workplace is that they can't take constructive criticism. That he tells people, “You have to wear closed-toed shoes to work”, and they blow up in his face because they just sort of can't take constructive criticism. And he viewed his job as an employer as helping them learn how to do that, helping them sort of regulate that initial impulse to lash out and respond more constructively. 
And so, you can imagine that learning that skill in the workplace might also help you navigate conflicts with your friends or with people who aren't your friends on the street, right, is that, that ability to sort of take a breath, think about where you are and whether it's worth fighting or not and walk away could also reduce violent crime.

Narrator
Similarly, Alicia Sasser-Modestino’s research in Boston finds that participants’ increases in soft skills and community engagement are strongly correlated with a decrease in violent crime.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
It turned out that after the program completion, the participants were far more likely to report that they felt connected to their neighborhood. They had a lot to contribute to the groups that they belong to, they were also more likely to report knowing how to manage their emotions and temper asking for help when it's needed resolving conflict with a peer constructively.

Rashad Cope
Some of her studies have also linked back to how summer jobs, within a community like the City of Boston, improves behavioral outcomes, and young people are more engaged by way of them participating in summer jobs. They're more engaged because they develop a sense of who they are by participating in summer jobs. They develop increased competency in certain areas, they know how to deal with conflict resolution, and they just know how to engage better with adults and peers.

Narrator
The conflict resolution and peer connection skills that Rashad talks about are skills that all young people benefit from, regardless of where they come from. However, not all youth have the same level of access to the environments where they can learn these skills. Individuals from lower income or vulnerable backgrounds may often not have access to the mentoring and confidence-building opportunities that their better resourced-peers might. Julia Breitman at New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development sees this gap as one that city agencies can help fill through summer jobs programs.

Julia Breitman
You don't know that you have to make those connections. It's a skill, it's something that's taught, it's something that's maybe taken for granted by middle class young people, but it's not something that most of the young people we serve understand. And so, it's been my privilege to take my experience, something I wish somebody had told me, and make sure that our young people are getting that experience. Because that really is the role of our programs, it's to help families, and help young people where the government needs to step in, right? Where, if a family doesn't have those skills and resources, this is where our programs come in, to make sure that young people have the same opportunities as somebody who's growing up with parents with connections.

Narrator
In speaking with program directors like Julia and Rashad, I am struck by the genuine excitement they feel in seeing the growth and empowerment of summer jobs participants taking place before their eyes. At the Philadelphia Youth Network, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend’s team proudly employs WorkReady alums and interns.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
And one of them, her name is Jaelynn and she is a first-generation college, she's in her first year of college. But what was so spectacular, was me getting to know her, let's say week one in an internship where she was very, very shy, and maybe soft – softer spoken, I would say she wasn't soft spoken – she was softer spoken. She didn't always readily jump into the conversation. And I watched her go from not being as sure about her thoughts or what she was seeking to accomplish to, by the end – I will say during the last week and in the subsequent week, following the end of her internship – she not only did a national presentation call with me, but we also had a meeting with the Senator. And she was able to articulate very clearly what having the WorkReady experience did for her in those six short weeks, how she found her voice, how she was empowered, how she was able to learn to solve problems. And she readily got to know people.

Tatiana Arguello
When you hear from young people about just how much they've grown over a summer, it just makes it so meaningful. It makes it worth it, you know, because the team and it's not just, it's not me. It's the team that really puts in hard work, sweat, tears, and really tries to build out this program that is meaningful.

Narrator
That feeling of pride that Tatiana Arguello at United Activities Unlimited feels is echoed by the pride that participants themselves feel when given the tools, skills, and support that they need. While studying the impact of Boston’s summer jobs program, Alicia Sasser-Modestino is aware of just how meaningful someone’s first job experiences can be.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
If we think back to our own first jobs that we had and the things that we learned, and the mistakes that we made, they were very transformational kinds of experiences.
I think about my own kids, my oldest kid, when he got a job at the YMCA [cut: um, frankly, he's not the most scholarly kid in our family, but] he got a lot of self-worth out of showing up to work on time, doing a good job, getting paid for it, getting praised by his supervisors that he could take away and then build on that during the school year or in other parts of his life.

Narrator
Ultimately, real empowerment involves recognizing that young people desire agency and the tools to play an active role in shaping their own lives.

Julia Breitman
They make these independent decisions, and there's a real feeling of empowerment. It's their job, we make sure that young people understand that it's their job. Parents sign off, but income is theirs. They get a bank account or a debit card in their name, they get an ID that shows that they are a Summer Youth Employment Program participant, and there's such a feeling of empowerment. And that stays with a young person. I mean, all of us can think back to our first jobs. We all remember our first jobs, we all remember our first paychecks. That feeling of pride never goes away.

Narrator
To close things out this week, we hear again from Yiping Li. Even all these years after she participated in One Summer Chicago, she can testify to the strength that the program gave her…and continues to give her. 

Yiping Li
I think it was interesting because there was sort of the immediate impact and then the other wave of emotions and reflection that I get when I think back to this program. So initially when I immediately came out of it, I definitely felt more independent, like I could take on these responsibilities. And like I mentioned, it was sort of the summer after I graduated from elementary school and it's going into high school and you certainly don't know what that new next phase of your life is like. And so, having gone through this program, it gave me the confidence that I could take on the next four years, the next chapter of my life, just knowing that I could take on new responsibilities and be more mature.

Narrator
J-PAL voices is produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Danielle Ellman, Danielle Glick, Benjamin Babayev, Angela Rudolph, Yiping Li, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, Alicia Sasser-Modestino, Sara Heller, Rashad Cope, and Julia Breitman. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback.

Narrator
On the next episode of J-PAL Voices...

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
We have to teach young people, not just about becoming employees, but also about job creation and entrepreneurship. And so, this is an opportunity I see for us to not only continue doing the necessary work of preparing our future workforce, but to expand how we're doing it and to use technology and impactful ways to create a greater impact.

Episode 3: Transform Data Use

Click to view transcript

Narrator
In a 2009 TED Talk, the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cautions against what she calls “the danger of a single story”.  “The single story,” she says, “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Narrator
Throughout this series, we bring you the story of summer jobs programs by highlighting a multitude of perspectives. At J-PAL North America, we try to avoid telling just a single story by using data to get a snapshot of different experiences. In combination with individual narratives, quantitative data can help us look at the outcomes and issues we care most about. Rigorous evaluation and data analysis play a critical role in the work done by people like Julia Breitman, Senior Director of Youth Employment Programs at the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development.

Julia Breitman  
We want to know if we're doing the right thing, and if we need to pivot, and if we need to improve something. And we want to know that we're making an impact.
Narrator (preceded by the short musical interlude that we use after every episode’s cold open)
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode Three: Transform Data Use.

Julia Breitman
When you're very busy, you don't have time for that kind of introspective work. And so, when you're going through an evaluation, it gives you that moment to step back, and look at your processes, and not just your data, but also your implementation. I always appreciate that opportunity to really step back.

Narrator
That’s Julia Breitman again, talking about the benefits to doing rigorous evaluation. New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, or DYCD, has worked with researchers like the University of Pennsylvania’s Judd Kessler to measure the impact of its Summer Youth Employment Program.
 
Judd Kessler
In the literature about the New York City Summer Youth Employment Program, they said that it accomplishes three main goals: providing support to low income youth and their families, giving youth sort of a step up the ladder of their careers or to sort of help them with future earnings or future educational attainment, and third, that it would keep youth out of trouble.

Narrator
Judd Kessler and his team had to figure out how they were going to get at whether the Summer Youth Employment Program, or SYEP, was meeting each of those three goals.

Judd Kessler
We took each of those things and we asked: what kind of data could we get that would evaluate the program on those dimensions that it was designed to achieve?

Narrator
On the third dimension, of keeping youth out of trouble, Judd and his co-authors found that SYEP was saving 20 lives a year, on average. I asked Judd if he could speculate on what could be behind these remarkable results on reducing mortality.

Judd Kessler
I can do more than speculate in part because I spent what can only be described as dark and depressing days, weeks I should say, in a basement room of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York, where they keep the New York City death records.

Judd Kessler
What we found in that data was that the deaths that were being prevented by the program were deaths from external causes, and primarily that's homicide. So, the way that the story fits together for us was that here's this program, it's keeping youth out of trouble, and the ways that we observed that are they're less likely to be incarcerated in state prison and they're more likely to be alive.

Narrator
In addition to looking at the New York City death records, Judd and his team also looked at publicly available data on incarceration in New York state prisons. Combining the trends that they saw in both datasets, they better understood the story behind how Summer Youth Employment Programs save lives.

Judd Kessler
The sort of narrative that played out is that it's getting you out of unsafe activities that you might do if you are unoccupied during the summer and into safer activities both in that summer when you’re working, but also for the longer term.

Narrator
This narrative resonates with what Sara Heller found in her study of the One Summer Chicago summer jobs program. She found that the program reduced violent crime arrests by 42% over the first year after the program. 

Sara Heller
One thing you might've thought is that this is just a story about keeping youth busy. That when you're giving them a job over the summer, they're literally busier and so they can't at the same time be standing on the corner getting into trouble. But it turns out that's not the only reason. So, you can in fact throw out the summer months of the program from the data entirely, look only after the program is over, and you still see a decline in violence. And so, the youth are taking something with them that changes their future behavior. It’s not just a question of keeping them mechanically busier over the summer.

Narrator
Researchers like Sara and Judd are able to read and measure these stories in large part because they can access high quality administrative data. These are datasets that are primarily collected for operational purposes. When studied with the right research questions in mind, they can yield valuable insights.

Judd Kessler
This research agenda, at least for me, is a story about the ability of organizations to keep track of data and the availability of the administrative data.

Narrator
Judd and his co-authors use a variety of administrative datasets, from publicly available data from New York state prisons to more restricted tax data from the Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis. Kenny Hofmeister is a Senior Research Analyst at the University of Chicago Poverty Lab. Through his work with Sara Heller on the summer jobs evaluations in Chicago, he sees a number of advantages to using administrative data.

Kenny Hofmeister
With administrative data, we can also observe a lot more information about the students who are participating in the program, for example. So, you know, have access to things like test scores, GPA, in some cases attendance records, things that are measured directly and hopefully with fidelity, in a way that you don't have to worry about people reporting their attendance. You don’t have to worry about people reporting their test scores.

Narrator
In addition to measurement of important outcomes, administrative data allow us to look at a program’s long-term impacts. When data are available over a number of years, we can study how a program’s impacts manifest over time at a relatively low cost.

Sara Heller
This is the benefit of using administrative data, is that we don't have to raise a bunch of money to go find them wherever they are and survey them. But we can sort of track them in administrative data. So, we're hoping to do that for longer term.

Narrator
For all the advantages that they bring, administrative data are ultimately only as good as the outcomes that they capture. Kenny Hofmeister is cognizant of these limitations to what can be asked by relying solely on administrative data.

Kenny Hofmeister
In some ways we're also limited by what's in that administrative data. So, if we think that there are things that are important, about selection into applying to One Summer Chicago for example, or related to some of the outcomes we're looking at – and they're not in the administrative data and they're not sort of proxied by anything in the administrative data, or we can’t be sure – we're kind of stuck, you know, we don't have a way to measure things that we don't think are in the data. So, if we were doing surveys, we would be able to maybe ask questions that we thought were important to measure.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
A lot of this research is very interdisciplinary and combines big data analysis using administrative datasets with survey data analysis, to be able to understand the mechanisms behind what we're finding in the administrative data.

Narrator
That’s Alicia Sasser-Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University, describing her research on Boston’s Summer Jobs Program. When Alicia started studying the program, the city already ran a survey of program participants. In partnership with the city, Alicia expanded the survey to include questions designed to help us understand how the program effects change.

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
We measure different aspects of youth development in these three different areas. So, one of them is looking at community engagement and social skills. So, we measure things like how to manage your emotions, how to resolve conflict with a peer, how to ask for help from an adult when it's needed. How much you feel engaged with your community? How much do you feel like you have something to contribute to the groups that you belong to? We ask about your role models and your mentors. In a second area, we ask about your academic aspirations after high school to attend either a four-year college or a two-year college, or engage in some kind of workforce development training. And then we also ask about your job readiness skills. So, there's a part of the program that's aimed at teaching them how to write a resume, how to draft a cover letter, how to practice interviewing with an adult, explore different career opportunities. So, we ask about all of those job readiness skills as well. And then what we do is we look to see which one of these buckets of changes that we see over the summer are correlated with the subsequent reduction in crime over the next 18 months. And what's really interesting is with each of these different types of outcomes, there's different mechanisms that are going on.

Narrator
In her research, Alicia finds that the summer jobs program reduced criminal arraignments for violent crime by 35%, an impact very similar to the one measured by Sara Heller in Chicago. Alicia’s analysis of the survey data in Boston finds that the reduction in crime is strongly correlated with improvements in community engagement, social skills, and conflict resolution. 

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
We've been deliberately testing these different mechanisms over time so that we can inform policymakers about which parts of the program seem to be impactful, where they can increase their investments, or how can you translate some of the lessons learned from the summer job program to other year-round activities that you do.

Narrator
Policymakers act on the lessons from evaluations like Alicia’s to refine their programs further. Julia Breitman in New York City told me how the Department of Youth and Community Development reacted to the findings from their research with Judd Kessler and his team.

Julia Breitman
We realized that it has this largest impact on young people who are considered vulnerable. And so, we increased funding for those initiatives, we increased recruitment of young people who would be considered at-risk because the data was incredibly clear.

Narrator
The data also show that following their time in New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program, youth tend to gravitate to the jobs that they worked in during those summers.

Julia Breitman
Another piece of the puzzle that Judd’s research showed us was how important it is, the industry where young people are working, that it does have an impact on their long-term earning.

Narrator
Julia’s team at the Department of Youth and Community Development embodies policymaking that is responsive to evidence and data. Even as they have doubled down on the program’s most successful aspects, they have adapted to enhance the program’s effectiveness further.

Julia Breitman
Young people who worked in social services, tend to stay in social services, and it's a wonderful career choice as I can attest, but we want them to know other options. And so, we started growing our private sector, just to ensure that even young people who are coming from low income backgrounds have as many opportunities as young people coming from any other background, right? And that's really what it all goes back to, is we want to ensure that we are opening doors for all of our young people.

Narrator
High quality data infrastructure can help inform summer jobs programming beyond the results from an impact evaluation. Commonpoint Queens is a community-based organization that implements New York’s Summer Youth Employment Program across the borough of Queens. CEO Danielle Ellman discusses how Commonpoint uses data to get a holistic perspective on the families of the youth whom they work with.

Danielle Ellman
We invested significant resources in a really sophisticated database client management software that would help better link families for us, so that we could be really much more intentional in our service strategy. And we would also uncover the places where, because we're operating in 50 locations in the borough of Queens, where we might already be servicing families and not really know and potentially allow us to do that work even better.

Narrator
Like Danielle, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, the CEO and President of the Philadelphia Youth Network, sees great value in getting a comprehensive picture across locations and services. The Philadelphia Youth Network, or PYN, manages Philadelphia’s WorkReady summer jobs program and is well positioned to coordinate across 80 non-profit agencies and private companies.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
One of the things that we've found that works well is, if you think about this system in scale, right, we could have a system where 80 different organizations would have to report to multiple entities, because we are collecting resources from the workforce system, from child welfare system. And so, you could just be spending hours of duplication in terms of the reporting if we had all of these singular systems not working together. The beauty in the coordination is you have one entity collecting all of the information from all 80 organizations and is, you know, quite literally in an up-to-the minute kind of ways, can give you a comprehensive picture of what's happening with the whole, as well as disaggregate that comprehensive picture to tell you about what you're specifically interested in. So, if you want to know what's happening in this zip code of the city, I can tell you how many programs I have there, how many kids are participating, how much money did they earn. But I can also tell you that for the whole system. And I think what that does is shift the dynamic so that the service providers who are delivering the services can really focus on building the relationships, making sure that the experience is quality, building those partnerships and PYN will focus on reflecting the sum of the whole to all of the parts. And it just really allows everybody to operate from their position of strength and of focus.

Narrator
For coordinating entities like PYN and organizations like Commonpoint, high quality data can foster a cycle of continuous improvement. Data also play a crucial role in helping advance their mission of giving voice to underserved youth. 

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
Certainly, it has influenced our approach to equity and access. So, we were able to ask very clear questions about who's actually turning their application into participation, and who’s consistently falling out of that group. And that led to some different strategies. When we work specifically with the juvenile justice system over the last eight to ten years, I would say would say over the last eight years, we've constantly revisited that question to say, “What in our practice is really working to ensure that those young people get connected?” And what kinds of partnerships and relationships do we need in order to ensure that there's greater, not just access to the opportunity, but participation or uptake of the opportunity? And so, we constantly use data to refine that. We use data also to articulate who we're serving and where they're coming from. 

Narrator
In New York City, a similar focus on racial equity and equitable service provision proved especially valuable when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. 

Julia Breitman
There was a racial inclusion taskforce that really looked at neighborhoods that were the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which as you know, across the country, but in New York City specifically, it really hit communities of color and low-income communities the hardest. And so, this taskforce identified neighborhoods that should be targeted for services. And while our program operated partially on a lottery, partially by selection to targeted neighborhoods, 91% of the participants came from those neighborhoods. So, we know the services are really going to young people who need them the most

Narrator
When viewed in the abstract, topics like data access and linkage can seem far removed from the heart and soul of summer jobs programs. In many ways though, the story of summer jobs programs could not be told without the rich administrative and survey datasets that so much investment has been poured into. These data help us act on crucial questions of equity and opportunity. They may not paint the full picture of summer jobs programs. But we could not tell the story of the impact and promise of these programs, without the deep insights that these data produce.    

Narrator
J-PAL voices is produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Julia Breitman, Judd Kessler, Sara Heller, Kenny Hofmeister, Misuzu Schexneider, Alicia Sasser-Modestino, Danielle Ellman, and Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback.

Narrator
On the next episode of J-PAL Voices...

Rashad Cope
Young people are more engaged by way of them participating in summer jobs. They're more engaged because they develop a sense of who they are by participating in summer jobs. They develop increased competency in certain areas, they know how to deal with conflict resolution, and they just know how to engage better with adults and peers


 

Episode 2: Ensure Zip Code is Not Destiny

Click to view transcript

Rashad Cope
I was born and raised here in the Roxbury part of Boston. I currently serve as the Director of the Department of Youth Engagement and Employment with the City of Boston. And in this role, I am responsible for providing leadership and oversight in our department's work around youth employment, where we provide nearly 4,000 jobs to youth and young adults across Boston.

Narrator
In his capacity at the City of Boston, Rashad Cope spends a lot of his time thinking about how to best serve the youth in his community, from engaging them in civic opportunities to connecting them with services and resources. For Rashad, this mission is both personal and professional
Rashad Cope (~1:16 of Zoom recording)
I would say that I came into this role really just as a proud native of the city of Boston and an indebted product of the Shelburne Community Center, which is a local community center in the neighborhood in the heart of Roxbury here in Boston, and a proud product of Boston public schools. My professional passion has always required alignment and giving back what was given to me in a more effective and measurable way, especially within the community and neighborhoods in which I was raised.

Narrator
Rashad has a deep understanding of the communities he serves, one borne of familiarity. Moreover, he has first-hand knowledge of the role that summer jobs programs can play in these very communities.

Rashad Cope
Very interestingly, my first job was actually through the department which I am currently the director of. So, back then it was called Boston Youth Fund and I worked at the Shelburne Community Center, which was my safe haven and my community and it was my home away from home. But my first job was a camp counselor at that community center and yes, I was employed through the city's youth employment program. So, everything has come full circle, which is pretty amazing.

Narrator
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode Two: Ensure Zip Code is Not Destiny.

Narrator
Rashad’s pride in the communities that shaped him is evident. In discussing mobility from poverty and enacting systemic change, he recognizes how important it is to not only anchor solutions within these communities, but to seek out their inputs as well. 

Rashad Cope
We give young people an opportunity to be heard, and jobs create that avenue for young people to build relationships with healthy adults and healthy peers, so that their issues, you know, and their concerns and their ideas can be heard. So, you give young people that voice.

Narrator
The importance of listening to the people involved in these summer jobs programs – whether participants or service providers – was especially underscored this summer. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened the viability of these programs in cities around the country. In New York City, the Department of Youth and Community Development initially canceled the 2020 Summer Youth Employment Program, or SYEP. But, as the Department’s Director Julia Breitman told me, they listened to the city’s youth and eventually figured out a way to ensure that this would not be a lost summer.

Julia Breitman
There really was a chorus of advocacy from young people themselves, for which we were incredibly grateful, and from the community-based organizations that are serving these communities, that said, “No, you can't do that. Young people need something for the summer. It would really be a lost opportunity. We can't have a summer without SYEP. There has never been a summer in New York City without SYEP. And young people are already falling behind and becoming disengaged from all the virtual learning, which works for some, but not for all, obviously.” And we wanted them to have something engaging to do this summer, but also not to lose this summer.

Narrator
Beyond advocating for the retention of these programs, youth have also helped reimagine summer jobs and expand the scope of what is possible. Even as Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services adapted its One Summer Chicago program to be COVID-safe, they incorporated new elements that reflected what they were hearing from Chicago’s youth. 

Angela Rudolph
It was like a new endeavor because we had heard from young people that they wanted to feel like they were doing something useful at a time that they felt like they were a little bit rudderless.

Angela Rudolph
We decided to launch a new program within One Summer Chicago, the Chicago Youth Service Corps that was targeted to a subgroup of One Summer participants, around 2000 kids. And it was focused around paying them to participate in work that was either community service, social justice, or COVID related. And so, in that way, what young people were doing, is like we had some young people who were making masks for their community. We had other kids who were doing work that was focused around putting together public outreach campaigns targeted to young people in the city, both around violence reduction, violence prevention, but also around COVID. Wear your mask. You know, putting out TikTok and Instagram videos, helping people to recognize what they should be doing in order to stay safe. And then we also had some young people who were working on and looking at issues around social justice and racial equity.

Narrator
Tatiana Arguello, the Director of Workforce Development at United Activities Unlimited sees a similar opportunity for summer jobs to serve as a vehicle for civic engagement. United Activities Unlimited, or UAU, operates a summer youth employment program in the New York City borough of Staten Island. 

Tatiana Arguello
You don't want the same program that never grows. You want a program that grows and is responsive to your community and is responsive to what the participants see as important and what they see as opportunities for growth, for discussion, for just engagement, you know? And so, we really have over the last few years, made it a point to put more civics in our programming and it's not to be political. It's to make sure that we are aware of who we are and what our values are, because that's an important workforce skill in itself. And also to understand how we as citizens can really be the change that we're looking for, whether that's in our workplace or in our everyday lives. So, I don't think that you need to build out different spaces. I think that the workforce is really, especially for millennials and for younger generations, about doing what it is that you love, about giving back to your community. And so, we really have made our program over the years more dynamic and responsive to the community needs and to really growing up responsibly and what that means.

Narrator
In saying that zip code should not be destiny, the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty calls for transforming communities while remaining grounded in the voices and perspectives of residents. This means giving youth the opportunity to serve the communities that raise them and that they are invested in. I see this exemplified in the positive feedback cycle that led to the Chicago Youth Service Corps and in the evolution of United Activities Unlimited. Back in 2011, my colleague Yiping Li was a 13-year old spending time at the public library in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

Yiping Li
I very much approached this with the mindset that, I already spent my time at the Chicago Public Library. What's another way, another activity that I can engage in when I'm spending my time there during the summer, that's meaningful? And if I could contribute to my local community, that's a bonus always.

Narrator
Yiping’s role initially involved taking in and shelving books.

Yiping Li
And then it essentially grew to much more than that because it was in a neighborhood where there was a low-income population and there wasn't a lot of childcare options available. I don't want to say for everyone, but I think childcare is always something that parents struggle with in the summer when school's out. And so, the librarian pulled me aside one day and said, "We realize that parents are going to leave their kids with you. And that's just how things are. And we're not going to ask them to, "No, you can't leave your kids with us and go work at your job or run your errands."" So later when I started I would still do the intake where I would help kids fill out their book reports but because kids were staying in that space for hours at a time, we started setting up arts and crafts stations. So like board games, water color, finger painting, crayons, coloring books and all of that. Just a lot of different activities, just try to keep them engaged.

Yiping Li
It was great to be engaging these kids, not just in a regular sort of, "Hello, now we have to spend the next three to four hours together. Let's think about what we're going to do." But we have a starting point, where we're here to think about reading and how to make reading fun for these kids. And that was an easy way for me to approach these kids and ask them about, "What was the book that you read? Can you tell me about it?" And knowing maybe sometimes for these kids, they don't have a lot of time with their parents talking about these things because their parents are busy and that's certainly how sometimes my family was because both of my parents were working at the time. And it was just a neighborhood where there was a lot of families where both parents are working and not spending a lot of time at home with their kids. And maybe do not necessarily have the time to really talk through what they did in their day and also what books or what new things they were learning. So, I think I really appreciated the opportunity that I could do that. And it was fun for me too because I get to talk about books that I've read with kids and it was a symbiotic relationship, I would say.  

Narrator
That idea of symbiosis – mutual benefit – is present in these programs along many dimensions. Even as the youth in these programs reap demonstrable benefits, they give back to the organizations where they work. In cases like Rashad’s or Tatiana’s, their experiences set them up to give back and serve the very programs that they benefited from. Moreover, data collected by city agencies indicate that the vast majority of employers, including those in the private sector, benefit from their participation in the program.  

Julia Breitman
When we survey our employers, they return 90+% evaluations. They're all willing to return, they're all willing to rehire their young people. So, we know it works, but we do need more companies to say yes to hiring our young people

Narrator
As Julia at the Department of Youth and Community Development sees it, the more that employers in New York City get involved with the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, the better it will be not only for the City and its youth, but for the companies themselves.

Julia Breitman
We have some of the glitziest names in the world who make their homes in New York City, but I don't know how much New York City they actually know. Where do they recruit their interns? They're coming from all over the world, but they may not necessarily be coming from the Bronx, or from Brooklyn, or from Queens. And so, my goal is to sort of make it a universal program where you want to do business in New York City, you have to hire New York City youth. And I think it would be a tremendous boon for all industries, not just for the young people, but for the industries themselves because it will really make them understand New York much more, the communities that they're working with much more, and really make them feel like New York City companies.

Narrator
These companies naturally strengthen summer jobs programs as they feel a deeper investment in the communities that these programs draw on. Building trust in relationships takes time, but the payoff is evident when everyone feels a stake in ensuring that these programs are successful. The Philadelphia Youth Network, or PYN, is currently partnering with economist Sara Heller to evaluate the impact of Philadelphia’s WorkReady summer jobs program. The relationships that PYN cultivated with private companies and non-profit agencies, proved especially valuable when the pandemic threw WorkReady in flux this year.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
We got hard at work and in three weeks we came up with a whole new strategy to implement and introduce virtual experiences. Now we could not have done that without the support of so many local champions. I have to say so many of our employers – PECO, Comcast – so many of our partners said, “Hey, if you can figure something out, we want to help. Tell us how we can help.” So, you can't do this without a trusting relationship with so many entities.

Narrator
That’s Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network. Organizations like PYN typically plan for a year’s summer jobs program many months in advance, which makes their last-minute pivot to modifying this summer’s WorkReady experience all the more laudable.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
Now, some things that we had in our favor. We have great relationships with our nonprofit partners. So, we were able to quickly assess their ability to move forward with us. What will they need? What kind of training? What would be helpful for them? Very, very quickly. And I'm proud that we started out with 82 organizations; 98% of them, so 80 of them went along this journey with us. And that is a huge amount of both trust and respect. And I just remember being so humbled. I wasn't sure exactly how this was going to work out. I was very honest with them. I don't know how this is going to work, this is what we want to try. I believe nothing beats a failure but a try. So, if we are willing to try together, let's make this happen. And they were like, “Yes, we want to try too, we too want to be a part of giving young people an experience or an opportunity.”

Narrator
Even while acknowledging that a virtual experience is different from an in-person one, Chekemma has been blown away by what she saw from participants and employers this past summer.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend
And I think what arrested me, or what surprised me, the most was that every time I went to a virtual event with one of my providers, it was full. I mean, 57 faces tuned in, chats blowing up asking great questions. And what I saw was young people being engaged. It was a very different medium in which we delivered the WorkReady services. We have been doing this for a long time and we've never done it the way we did it this past year. And to know that the benefits were still transmitted. Not just in earning resources, but building the relationships, sharpening the skills, being engaged in community, having an impact on the world around you, discussing very important and real relevant topics. But all doing that while you are sharpening what I will say is, you know, essential skills for any work environment: the critical thinking, the communication, the team work, the initiative. Being responsible and reliable. Those are assets that every employer wants in every single employee. And that's what I saw this summer.

Narrator
Communication skills, learning how to be responsible and reliable, being engaged in community; PYN has tried to ensure that virtual versions of summer jobs programs focus on what’s most important. Those elements stand out in the stories that we hear from participants as well. Alicia Sasser-Modestino is an economist at Northeastern University who has evaluated Boston’s Summer Jobs Program. As part of her research, she has conducted focus groups with participants in the program. She shared the story of a participant who had worked as a day camp counselor. 

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
He was out sick one day. And he got a text from one of his campers saying, “Are you okay? Where are you? I'm looking for you and I'm worried, are you going to come back to work tomorrow?” And he realized in that moment, how impactful he was on the campers that he was supervising and how important it was that he show up to work every day. And that there were kids who were counting on him. So, I think when we think about the social skills that are developed, in terms of not just interacting with your peers, but developing empathy, your responsibility to others that you're working with or you're working for, or you're supervising. These are real experiences that youth are having. And employment and work provides these experiences in a way that you don't necessarily get in school and that you don't get in other areas of your life. And so, I think that's another thing that maybe has just been overlooked over time is, you know, if we think back to our own first jobs that we had and the things that we learned, and the mistakes that we made. They were very transformational kinds of experiences. Like, I remember the first job that I did and, I didn't show up for work and I got fired! I got fired from my first job and that never happened again, I'll tell you that! So, I think that the work experience is a universal experience. But for some youth who either don't have that opportunity because, where they live there aren't too many job opportunities, or their parents don't have those connections. Or, for youth who have not had these types of experiences, it really can put them on a different path.

Narrator
These experiences partly shape youth by helping them imagine opportunities they may not be aware of. Sara Heller, an economist at the University of Michigan whom we met in Episode One, hears stories similar to Alicia’s when she speaks with youth in Chicago.

Sara Heller
Some of the most compelling moments that I had working on these studies were doing site visits and sort of talking to the youth about their experiences. And, you know, they sort of articulate the same mechanisms we're thinking about too, right? So, I had one youth talk to me about how his mentor in the program really helped him envision a future that he didn't really think that he had a future before the program, but now he was sort of starting to see what that might look like.

Narrator
Helping youth see that future and see themselves in that future is a central goal of City agencies like DYCD in New York. 

Julia Breitman
What we do with our programs, it's not just create opportunities, but it's also create opportunities for career exploration. So sure, as a 16-year-old you're not going to have the opportunity to work in some of these giant corporations, but you can find out what happens inside them. You can meet a mentor who works there, you can attend a career panel and hear how that person got to where they were. And maybe they look just like you, and maybe they grew up in a neighborhood similar to yours, and these are the steps they took to get there. So, it really is about opening their eyes, showing them what's possible, and then creating those opportunities.

Tatiana Arguello
It's really about other things that you gain. The opportunity to look within yourself, to do some self-growth, to do some reflecting, especially this summer where all of us were going through traumatic experiences, to really speak to other people, to learn new skills.

Narrator
As Tatiana Arguello from UAU notes, the value in these programs lies not just in the skills learned, but in the experience of speaking with other people. These can be mentors and supervisors, or other participants. When done right, summer jobs programs expose participants to a diversity of experiences, and a diversity of people.

Tatiana Arguello
I think the beauty in the program is really that it is so diverse. And it's not just ethnically diverse, it's diverse with different opinions, with different experiences, with different even parts of Staten Island or the City that people are coming from.

Narrator
For many participants, the highlight of their summers were the connections they made and the diversity of the programs. Even as these summer experiences help participants imagine a big future, they broaden their present. To close things out, we hear from Benjamin Babayev and Sunny Lee on their summers at Commonpoint Queens.

Benjamin Babayev
I got to make so many more friends that, of different races, that go to different schools in different boroughs even. And we still talk to this day, which is very nice. So, it made my social circle a little bit bigger.

Benjamin Babayev
I got to make new friends that I never really knew of. And since everyone's from different schools all over the city, we got to connect really well. And the final project really helped me, opened my eyes to the issues in the community. My new focus on the inequalities in our education system, where we targeted how minority races experience lack of opportunities that majority races get.

Sunny Lee
I think my favorite part is honestly just…meeting new people, I guess, because I mean the learning aspect is also amazing because I mean, I get to learn about new things. But, I think meeting new people is also great because I can make new friends and I can get to know people in New York that I probably wouldn't know otherwise. So, it's fun to connect with people. 

Narrator
J-PAL voices is produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Rashad Cope, Julia Breitman, Angela Rudolph, Tatiana Arguello, Yiping Li, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, Alicia Sasser-Modestino, Sara Heller, Benjamin Babayev, and Sunny Lee. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback.

Narrator
On the next episode of J-PAL Voices...

Alicia Sasser-Modestino
We've been deliberately testing these different mechanisms over time so that we can inform policymakers about which parts of the program seem to be impactful, where they can increase their investments, or how can you translate some of the lessons learned from the summer job program to other year-round activities that you do?

 

Episode 1: Setting the Stage

Click to view transcript

Narrator
In 2011, economist Judd Kessler was living in New York City and looking for a research topic that would have a meaningful policy impact. So he called an acquaintance at the Mayor’s Fund To Advance New York City, an institution that works with city agencies and community-based partners.

Judd Kessler
The Mayor's Fund was an organization that gave money to city agencies or to city programs. And they were very interested in the efficacy of the dollars they were donating. And so she went through with me one day, and I remember the meeting vividly, a bunch of the things that they were supporting with their funds. And I would ask a few questions about the ones that sounded interesting, and we got to summer youth employment and she described the program, which I knew about growing up in New York. I had friends who had either applied or thought about applying. And she described the program and as she was describing it, it just kept sounding more and more like the kind of thing that would lend itself to an evaluation. It would be important. It would be helping to evaluate the efficacy of a big program. At the time it was serving almost 50,000 people each summer.

Narrator
A year earlier, and a few states away, as a graduate student, economist Sara Heller had a similar conversation with Commissioner Evelyn Diaz of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. 

Sara Heller
When I was a graduate student, I was learning a lot about the literature on job training programs in general as part of my graduate education. And I realized that we had all of this evidence on adult training programs and some about youth training programs, but basically nothing on summer jobs programs in particular, and these summer programs, which are targeted to younger people - that's why they're in the summer, sort of between the school year - have been going on for half a century. The federal government started funding them in the sixties and that money has sort of moved around in different ways, but they've been running in almost every major city for half a century and we really knew almost nothing about their effects.

Narrator
In partnership with researchers like Sara and Judd, visionary city leaders in Chicago, New York, and Boston would go on to study these summer jobs programs. Thanks to their efforts, we now know that these programs reduce violent crime, reduce incarceration, improve community engagement, and even save lives.

Narrator
From J-PAL North America, this is J-PAL Voices. I’m your host, Rohit Naimpally. On this season of J-PAL Voices, we take a close look at the impact and promise presented by summer jobs programs in the United States. We will bring you the stories behind the impact, as told by the people who create, participate in, and sustain these programs. Episode One: Setting the Stage.

Sara Heller
Typically, they tend to be more often, jobs in nonprofit and government organizations. So things like being a summer camp counselor at a YMCA, or doing some urban renewal projects clearing out a vacant lot and planting an urban garden and sort of learning a little bit about gardening and food production as you go, working on sort of maintaining schools over the summer or landscaping and the building infrastructure or working in an Alderman's office. Some of the programs also include private sector jobs. So what you might think of as a more, sort of quote “normal” summer job working in retail or restaurants in your sort of local drugstore or grocery store.

Narrator
That’s Sara Heller again, now an economics professor at the University of Michigan, describing what jobs are typically available through Chicago’s One Summer Chicago summer jobs program. While these programs do vary across cities, they bear a number of similarities to each other. This was made all the more clear when I spoke  with Julia Breitman. Julia is the Senior Director of Youth Employment Programs in New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development

Julia Breitman
About 40% of the jobs are in your typical summer job, your daycare, day camp, hospital, social service. We also have another 40% of young people in the private sector. And that's everything from small businesses, to banks. And then we have young people who are also participating or working with government agencies. So really, it runs the gamut of everything in New York City. We also have a professional internship program called Ladders for Leaders. It's the capstone of your Summer Youth Employment Program. Selection to that program is very rigorous, but young people in that program are able to really intern with some of the top names in businesses in New York City. So we have young people work in the Bank of America, and Sotheby's, and The Mets. So those are very cool experiences. But those are for a smaller group of young people. But you could be a camp counselor one day, you could work in a sustainability project another summer. You could work in a small business, you could work in a hospital. 

Narrator
City agencies like the Department of Youth and Community Development partner with community-based organizations to help youth gain work experience, earn a steady paycheck over the summer, and develop the soft and hard skills that they will need going forward. As you would expect, these programs are incredibly popular and reliably receive many more applicants than they can typically serve. Many city agencies are working tirelessly to expand their offerings so that this is no longer the case. But as long as these programs are oversubscribed, they present us with a unique research opportunity. 

Sara Heller
Part of what lent itself to, or part of what made the program open to evaluation is that I had leadership who was really, really dedicated to figuring out if it worked. Now, what people often do when they're interested in thinking about whether a program works is collect information on participants, on people who actually show up and participate in the program. And to think about whether those youth have different outcomes from the youth who aren't participating you have to find some other group of non-participants to compare them to. But if you think about it, if you just compare the participants to the non-participants, the difference between those groups is not just the program, because you might think that the people who show up and say, “I'm ready for a job here I am.” are different even in the absence of the program. And it might be that they're more motivated or they have parents or grandparents who are more active about helping them seek out opportunities. So it might be that they're already doing better, even in the absence of the program. But it could also be the opposite. It could be the youth who really struggled to find a job or living in areas where there just aren't as many jobs and so they would be doing worse than the absence of the program. So there's this sort of classic problem of being able to isolate the effect of the program itself. And the reason we were able to overcome that [a little bit of audio needs to be cut here: and this is true, not just for Plus, but for other studies that I know you're going to be discussing on the podcast] is that basically all of these programs are oversubscribed. So they have more applications than they actually have money to serve or programs slots, which means they have to allocate those slots somehow. And the way that they do it in order to be fair, so to avoid nepotism or first come first serve, they allocate the slots with a lottery, which means the difference between people who are actually offered the job and the applicants who applied but were not offered the job is really just the flip of a coin, so that we know in the absence of the program, those two groups, the participants and the non-participants, on average, are going to look just the same. That means we can follow the youth over time, both the participants and the non-participants, compare their outcomes, and really be able to isolate the effect of the program itself by comparing the average difference between those two groups.

Narrator
At J-PAL North America, a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, where I work, we try to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty. We use rigorous research to identify which programs can foster upward mobility, and evaluations like the one that the City of Chicago conducted in partnership with Sara Heller are catnip to us: they provide us with rigorous evidence of measurable impact. Over the course of this series, we will go deep on what we have learned from evaluations in Chicago, New York, and Boston. But that’s not all. Through conversations with participants, program implementers, and other stakeholders, we will try to give you a holistic sense of what summer jobs represent to their communities. As Julia Breitman told me, New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development tries to be responsive to what the participants in their programs actually want and need.

Julia Breitman
We really look at the interests of young people, and we ask our community-based organizations to develop jobs based on their interests. And we're trying to break into IT and to the tech sector. I think this summer, we've been really successful because it was virtual. I think it actually helped us make a lot of connections in the technology sector. But we're looking at the jobs of the future, we're looking at where industries are heading, and we're hoping that it starts to match what the summer experiences are looking like for our young people.

Narrator
In speaking with participants and program coordinators, I am constantly reminded of just how much these summer jobs programs do for their participants. This past summer, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, these programs played a crucial supportive role, as Angela Rudolph in Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services explains.

Angela Rudolph  
We had young people who were depending upon us. So we had a number of conversations with the agencies that we fund, we call them delegates. And one of the things that we learned from delegate agencies was that young people were really challenged by what they had lost. They had lost the ability to kind of have business as usual. They lost the ability to interact with the people that they cared about. And it wasn't just their friends. It was around teachers or coaches or folks in programs who really helped to ground young, some young people who had challenging circumstances. And so for us, we wanted to figure out ways that we could really build a program that would center all of those things and help people felt like they were gaining something when we got to the summertime.

Narrator
These programs provide the supports that participants need and foster a sense of purpose and community that goes beyond employment. Viewed in this light, the impact of summer jobs on violent crime is an important part of the story, but not the entirety of it. 

Angela Rudolph
Yes, having a job, it's helpful and it does have an impact on violence, but it's not just the job, right? [A little bit of audio needs to be cut here: It is all of those things that we learned many years before, around youth development in general, that] The way that you help young people isn't just by giving them a wage. You help young people by making sure that they understand that there are people out here who care about them and who are invested in their success. And who are going to be there for them if they run into difficulty and if they are trying to figure things out.

Narrator
This is echoed in much of what I heard from participants in these programs, many of whom saw their supervisors and employers as proof of the community’s investment in their futures. Participants like Erica Chen, who spent a number of summers working with Commonpoint Queens as part of New York City’s Ladders for Leaders Program. 

Erica Chen
I really loved my instructor because - or like my boss - because she was so friendly with everything and casual with everything, but she was also really approachable about like job things, job related things, but also like life things. Like if you were to ask her about advice, obviously like out of work times though, but she was like such a mom to the entire group of Ladders for Leaders kids.

Narrator
Habiba Khan, another Commonpoint alumnus, told me that experiences like hers set people up for a promising future well beyond the end of the program.

Habiba Khan
If you're investing time in the students and if you're investing time in the participants of the program, then you're more likely to get something out of the students. You know, the more you invest in something, the more you're likely to get something out of it. So it does make sense that when you introduce someone to something that's good for them, that they might continue going along that pathway and continue using whatever you're giving them to their advantage.

Narrator
All the participants I spoke with reflected Habiba’s belief that the youth who apply to these programs are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. That they have desire and agency. And in summer jobs programs, there is leadership that is willing to provide the belief and supportive environment that those youth need. This was perhaps Angela Rudolph’s biggest takeaway for me from the program in Chicago.

Angela Rudolph
I think far too often, we have this sense as older people that young people are lazy, young people aren't really interested in doing that much. Everybody wants to stay, you know, linked, physically to their devices. And one of the biggest lessons that I walked away from this summer with was the deep and unabiding desire that young people have to feel like they have agency and the ability to make things better. And that one of the kind of added bonuses of this summer was that young people felt like there were people in the world who saw that and wanted to create spaces for them to do something more and different and beyond what they could have ever imagined. And I know that's true because I have literally seen every one of the comments that young people submitted from our survey. And one of the kind of overwhelming themes was this kind of wonder that people had. That they saw things in themselves that they didn’t really recognize beforehand and that they had struggled with, particularly because of what happened with the COVID crisis. And so I just want people to know that, you know, young people are waiting for them to see them, to invest in them, and to really kind of offer themselves as a guide, to kind of figure out what is the way forward.

Narrator
In embarking on this journey to tell the story of summer jobs programs in the United States, our goal is to explore how these programs can be one part of the solution towards fostering upward mobility. The scope of what these programs provide their participants is reflected in a broader understanding of what upward mobility means. In speaking with the various people involved with summer jobs, I kept coming back to the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty’s conception of upward mobility. The Partnership consists of leading voices in academia, practice, the faith community, philanthropy, and the private sector. The Partnership’s collective ambition is that all people achieve a reasonable standard of living with the dignity that comes from having power over their lives and being engaged in and valued by their community. J-PAL North America Scientific Director Larry Katz is a professor of economics at Harvard University, and serves as one of the Partnership members. I asked him about how he thinks about mobility from poverty.

Larry Katz
An important component is your standard of living and your income. But I think what we really were concerned with was everyone having the opportunity for a meaningful role in society, to have dignity, and to be valued by their community. And not just to only have a high income and that opportunity. And I think we thought a lot, not just about what the impacts of programs were on earnings, but your own autonomy to make choices. The sense of which, what you do will be valued by others in a sense of inclusiveness, belonging, and truly developing meaning. And that's where we thought about as mobility from poverty, as broader than just what fraction of people earn or have family incomes above some cut off. Clearly material hardship is incredibly important and we want everyone to escape and to have a decent standard of living, but we thought much more broadly about really, the fact that everyone deserves the opportunity to do something meaningful and to have dignity and be respected and as a valued member of the community. And that's the most important thing that's almost impossible to do when in material, when really strapped for resources. So that's key, but empowerment is another important aspect of it.

Narrator
As part of its approach, the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty proposes a set of five interlocking strategies to dramatically increase mobility from poverty: One, change the prominent and damaging narratives about poverty and mobility. Two, create access to good jobs by improving pathways to good jobs and transforming jobs with low wages. Three, ensure that zip code is not destiny through comprehensive place-based approaches. Four, provide support that empowers that takes “whole person” and “whole family” approaches. And finally, transform data use to help researchers and policymakers better understand which programs are most effective and why.
Over the next five episodes of J-PAL Voices, we will explore how each of these five strategies plays out with summer jobs programs, and get to know some of the stories underpinning them all.

Narrator
J-PAL voices is produced by Dave Lishansky and written and narrated by Rohit Naimpally. Elizabeth Bond designed our logo. Special thanks to Yijin Yang for her inputs and support. Transcription assistance was provided by Caroline Garau and Yiping Li. For this week’s interviews, we thank Judd Kessler, Sara Heller, Julia Breitman, Angela Rudolph, Erica Chen, Habiba Khan, and Larry Katz. Our email address is [email protected]; we would love to receive your comments and feedback.

Narrator
On the next episode of J-PAL Voices...

Julia Breitman
My goal is to sort of make it a universal program where you want to do business in New York City, you have to hire New York City youth. And I think it would be a tremendous boon for all industries, not just for the young people, but for the industries themselves because it will really make them understand New York much more, the communities that they're working with much more, and really make them feel like New York City companies.

 

Rigorous research paired with visionary public policy has shaped a program that empowers communities to lower violent crime, reduce incarceration, and save lives: Summer Youth Employment Programs. In this podcast series from J-PAL North America, you’ll come to know the stories behind the impact.

Hosted by Senior Research and Policy Manager Rohit Naimpally, the inaugural season of J-PAL Voices explores how summer jobs programs fit into the broader goals of fostering mobility from poverty in the United States. Over six episodes, we will hear from advocates and program coordinators, researchers, and most importantly, the participants themselves about why these programs matter to them and why they should matter for all of us. We hope you’ll join the conversation and tune into J-PAL Voices. From October 14th through December 23rd, episodes were released every second Wednesday. Subscribe to J-PAL Voices today, wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Sound engineer and producer: Dave Lishansky

The Impact of Summer Youth Employment Programs

Summer youth employment programs commonly place qualifying youth, often from low-income families, in a part-time, minimum-wage job with a local government agency, community organization, or business for the summer. Youth may also receive mentorship, life skills training, or other services. Cities, with the help of state and federal grants and local philanthropic support, subsidize the wages of the participants. Each of the fifty most populous cities in the United States has recently offered a summer youth employment program. In a number of cities, including Boston, Chicago, and New York City, these programs have been shown to reduce arrests for violent crime, reduce incarceration rates, and even lead to a decrease in premature deaths. As we release episodes of the podcast, we will link to research studies and media stories highlighting the substantial impact of these programs.

Resources and Links

J-PAL Voices: Trailer

Listen to the trailer for J-PAL Voices: The Impact and Promise of Summer Jobs in the United States for a preview of what’s to come.