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Do Summer Jobs Matter? An Evaluation of the Los Angeles City and County Summer Youth Employment Program
The labor market attachment and unemployment rate among U.S. youth has changed dramatically over the last few decades. In part, these changes reflect the cyclical nature of the economy, but unemployment for teens and young adults in the years following the Great Recession rose to 19.6% – nearly double that of all other workers. This is very unfortunate given the impact that early job experience has on a number of important outcomes later in life. The widespread concern about youth unemployment has brought a renewed interest in summer jobs programs for youth. In the U.S., these programs were first created under the Manpower Development and Training Act in the 1960’s but fell out of favor in many cities over the ensuing decades. While many programs were eventually shut down, the County and City of Los Angeles continued their commitment to providing youth with summer job opportunities. Since 2006, Los Angeles County has collaborated with private, public, and non-profit partners to create job opportunities for its youth. And more recently, County officials agreed to invest $1 million to prepare foster youth for the workforce. For well over three decades, the City’s Los Angeles Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) has remained a key component of the Youth Workforce System. The County and City of Los Angeles have worked together to offer many teens and young adults get their first job, and through these efforts, have helped thousands of youth gain experience in the marketplace. In 2014, over 10,000 young people were connected to employment opportunities county-wide. The 2015 summer program aimed to enroll a total of 20,000 young people county-wide, 11,000 of which were to be city residents. The program focused on high-growth, high-wage sectors and specifically targeted opportunities for foster, probation or homeless youth, and youth from families receiving CalWORKs public assistance or General Relief. Concentrating on these sub-populations has helped the most vulnerable young people earn valuable work and experience and, in many cases, a first paycheck. In addition to these objectives, the goals of the 2015 summer program were to: - Provide youth with career exploration opportunities in high-growth, high-wage sectors (e.g., transportation, healthcare, hospitality, logistics, and financial services) - Increase youths’ career aspirations and career awareness, - Increase youths’ motivation, - Improve youths’ “work readiness” skills, - Provide youth with financial literacy skills - Encourage youth to continue their education or find employment. These are ambitious goals and the County and City of Los Angeles wanted to know the degree to which the program achieved this. This study attempts to measure the impact of the SYEP by comparing youth who applied to but did not enroll in the program with youth served by the program. The evaluation was driven by the following set of research questions (RQs): 1. How do enrollees and non-enrollees compare on key demographic variables? 2. Does participation in SYEP improve education and employment outcomes? 3. How do enrollees and non-enrollees compare on their career goals and specific personality characteristics? 4. Why did some youth who applied to the 2015 SYEP ultimately not participate? 5. To what extent did enrollees complete the program? And, what characteristics predicted program completion? 6. How did enrollees evaluate their employment experience, in terms of job, program, supervisor, and training satisfaction as well as perceptions of job fit? 7. How did the evaluation of the enrollees’ experience compare across different subgroups? 8. How did enrollee attitudes change from before the work experience to after the work experience?