The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
May 5, 2016

Expanding economic opportunity for boys and young men of color through summer work experience opportunities

The My Brother’s Keeper White House Initiative and the MBK Alliance call for public and private efforts to help boys and young men of color achieve milestones at the same rate as others in the United States. This blog series discusses strategies that could be effective in meeting those goals.  

A year ago, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance “to make the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating gaps in their opportunities and outcomes.” To do so requires tackling the higher rates of unemployment for young men of color relative to other groups, stemming from a complex combination of discriminatory practices and structural racism, as well as a changing economy and labor market.

Young men of color are further disadvantaged when they do not have opportunities to build early work experiences. One strategy for addressing this problem is expanding summer employment opportunities. Over the past year, public and private entities have been implementing new policies and initiatives with this thinking in mind, including the following:

  • Full implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which requires that at least 20 percent of local youth funding allocated be used to provide work experience activities for in-school and out-of-school youth
  • Other federal funding and initiatives, including the White House’s Summer Opportunity Project, a multiagency effort to increase the percentage of youth in summer employment programs, among other goals
  • JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work initiative, which aims to create demand-driven workforce systems. The initiative includes a special focus on youth through its support of summer youth employment and career and technical education programs
  • Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Generation Work initiative, which supports local partnerships in bringing together youth development and demand-driven workforce development strategies to improve outcomes for youth
  • The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, led by Starbucks and several other corporate partners, aimed at engaging 100,000 youth in apprenticeships, internships, and full-time and part-time jobs by 2018

Cities across the country are working to leverage these resources to expand and improve summer opportunities for youth. Such efforts provide the momentum for expanding access to paid work experience opportunities, but innovative approaches and better program design are needed to maximize long-term employment outcomes.

Unfortunately, summer youth job programs have generally not been found to have positive impacts on employment in the long term. Several recent evaluations have shown reductions in violence, incarceration, and mortality among participating youth but have not demonstrated improvements in employment outcomes relative to control or comparison groups beyond the summer of participation. Evaluations of new programs also need to have a longer view by analyzing whether these programs produce long-term employment outcomes for participating youth. For example, a forthcoming MDRC evaluation of New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program will follow youth for up to eight years after participation in the program.

As the government, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations work to improve economic opportunities for boys and young men of color, they should build on existing research that suggests the importance of engaging employers, offering meaningful experiences to youth, and providing necessary supports so that young people can get the most out of their summer jobs.

Photo courtesy of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance

SHARE THIS PAGE

As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.