Are there real benefits to urban youths spending six to nine weeks in a summer job? Conny Doty, director of Mayor Thomas Menino’s Office of Jobs and Community Services, took up that question with the mayor at her side as she looked grimly out into the crowd at the Holland Community Center on Tuesday.
Remembering how she has had to lobby federal officials for funds, she said, “I’ve heard that so many times.” But in her hands was what she called “irrefutable evidence” pointing to the answer being “yes.”
A 30-page report, put together by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, argues that summer employment reduces the chances of low-income youths engaging in risky and violent behavior, like drinking alcohol and shoplifting, and “prepares them for future employment and academic experiences.”
David Applebury, 19-year-old senior at Burke High School, is one of those youths. He has spent three summers in the city’s youth jobs program, including one year cleaning up abandoned parks for the Boston Police Department’s District B-3 and two summers at St. Peter’s Teen Center as a counselor.
“I’m a role model to them,” Applebury said. He’s hoping to eventually become a firefighter, and is currently practicing for the exam.
Bianca Martinez, an 18-year-old from Roxbury who attends Northeastern, also spent time working for B-3 as a community organizer. She helped raise money for a seniors’ boat cruise on Boston Harbor on top of serving on the school department’s Boston Student Advisory Council. Being an advocate for students has led to her desire to go to law school and become an attorney, she said.
Along with the study, the two teens were touted by city officials as examples of the success of the program, which has suffered from cuts in funding from the federal level. The Northeastern report noted that the teen summer employment rate in Massachusetts fell to 36 percent in 2012, down from 67 percent in 1999. “We’ve let more youth down now than in any other time in our history,” said Andy Sum, one of the authors of the study.
The average cost of putting a young person to work at a summer job is about $1,750. Out of the 10,000 kids in the program, 3,000 are placed in the private sector, while the other 7,000, whose positions are financed by foundations and government funds, work in community service jobs.
“Overall, high majorities of the participants reported that the program had provided various types of help, ranging from positive assistance such as opening up new doors for the future to avoiding negative behaviors such as hanging around in the street,” the study noted.
Thirty-five percent of participants in the program had a job after the summer was over, as opposed to 17 percent of youths who were not part of the program.
The study included 421 program participants from 2012, with most of them holding jobs at nonprofit agencies. Thirty percent were 14 to 15 years old, 27 percent were 16 and 17 years old, and 43 percent were 18 or older. Eighteen percent lived with their parents, and 95 percent were residents of Dorchester, Mattapan, or Roxbury. Most spent the money they earned on clothes and shoes.
“However, more than 60 of every 100 participants reported giving money to their mother or father, and 17 percent gave money to other relatives,” the study said. “Almost half of the participants responded that they put part of their money in savings accounts, and 40 percenty used their income to buy school supplies. Only 3 percent admitted that they used part of their incomes to buy illegal substances.”
At the press conference on Tuesday, Menino said one of the first things he did as acting mayor was add money to the city budget for youth jobs. The figure then was $500,000; now, to make up for the $6 million cut in federal funding, the city’s share is $4.3 million.
The day before, Menino noted, the program was still going strong: He had met with members of the city’s legal community, which will be putting 58 Boston youths to work at its firms. “They’re going to be rubbing elbows with some of the smartest people in America,” Menino said.