For decades, cities throughout the country have sponsored summer youth employment programs for youth from low-income communities, subsidized with contributions from the private sector as well as state and federal grants. These programs seek to introduce young people to the world of work, exposing them to potential careers, teaching them the many soft skills necessary to obtain and hold a job while providing valuable structured learning time during summer months. Advocates argue that such programs will reduce juvenile crime, increase academic performance and enhance labor market opportunities for disadvantaged youth.
The Youth Policy Lab has partnered with the Poverty Solutions initiative at U-M to develop and evaluate two local summer youth employment programs. The goal is to not only improve the opportunities for low-income youth in Southeast Michigan, but also learn about better ways to structure such programs in other locations.
Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT), Detroit’s summer youth employment program, has been serving the city’s young residents from the age of 14-24 for the past seven years. And although more than 10,000 youth have been reached and subsidized through GDYT, the program’s impact on its participants not yet been assessed in any systematic way. By linking education and criminal justice records to GDYT data, the Youth Policy Lab will investigate the program’s impact for participants in Summer 2015 and Summer 2016. We have partnered with the Michigan Department of Education, the Detroit Police Department and City Connect, a local nonprofit that administers GDYT, to study how the work opportunities influence youth outcomes, including measures like grades, test scores, graduation and criminal involvement.
In addition, the Youth Policy Lab and Poverty Solutions will launch a new summer youth employment based at the University of Michigan. A pilot in Summer 2016 will draw low-income youth from Washtenaw County, and place them in a variety of positions at UM. In addition to their work responsibilities, the youth will participate in weekly enrichment sessions designed to prepare them for future postsecondary and employment opportunities. Researchers will measure a host of academic, social and economic outcomes for youth that apply for this program, with the goal of refining the program each year based on careful data analysis. The team expects that this U-M program will expand in coming years, so that it can have a substantial impact on the surrounding communities and grow into a high-impact program for local youth, providing new lessons and ideas for researchers, practitioners and policymakers nationwide.