PROJECTYouth in Our Workforce


young people learning about technoloy

Youth employment rates are very low relative to historical standards, triggering what has been called a “youth employment crisis.” The overall youth labor force participation rate was 55.5 percent in July 2018, down from a high of 69.1 percent in 1979. The labor force participation rate among teenagers (ages 16 to 19) declined even more, from 59.3 percent to 35.2 percent, during the same period.

Summer youth employment programs (SYEPs) are a popular workforce development strategy used by cities across the country to increase youth employment by providing valuable early work experiences to tens of thousands of young people each year. Although past research has found that well-designed SYEPs have positive impacts on academic and health outcomes and on soft skill development, similarly positive effects on long-term employment outcomes have not been observed.

Although recent evaluations of SYEPs have acknowledged the importance of employer engagement in creating meaningful summer experiences for youth, research has not yet explored the role of employers in partnering with SYEPs to create viable on-ramps to the labor force for youth.

The blog post and brief use our data analysis from the first wave of the US Census Bureau’s 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation to provide a detailed snapshot of youth employment from January 2013 to December 2013, focusing on disparities in work participation and employment outcomes. The research report (forthcoming in fall 2019) highlights findings from our site visit data collection with SYEP staff, employers, and past participants in three cities. These findings provide insight on the role of SYEPs in supporting the future local workforce, and, more specifically, on how SYEPs can leverage employer partnerships to build stronger workforce pathways for young people.


The Youth Workforce: A Detailed Picture

Employer Engagement in Summer Youth Employment Programs

Urban Wire Blog Posts

For People of Color, Employment Disparities Start Early

Key takeaways from the brief:

  • Rates of youth employment remain low relative to historical levels. About one-third of youth ages 16 to 19 and seven in ten youth ages 20 to 24 were employed at some point in 2013.

  • Racial and ethnic disparities in employment were stark, particularly among youth ages 16 to 19. In this age group, white youth were employed at a rate 15 percentage points higher than Latinx youth, 16 percentage points higher than black youth, and 21 percentage points higher than Asian youth. Black and Latinx youth were also much more likely to be disconnected from both school and work than were white and Asian youth.

  • Across age groups and racial and ethnic groups, the majority of employed youth lived in higher-income households (earning more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level). Notably, more than two-thirds of workers between the ages of 16 and 19 were from higher-income households.

  • Thirty-seven percent of 20- to 24-year-old workers earned wages lower than the federal minimum wage, and the industries with the highest concentrations of youth (accommodation/ food services and retail) were the lowest-paying.

  • The hourly wage gap by gender and race and ethnicity emerges early in a young person’s life.

    • Across all youth ages 16 to 24, females earned 86 percent of wages earned by males.

    • Among young adults ages 20 to 24, black youth earned 86 percent and Latinx youth earned 92 percent of wages earned by their white peers.

  • The distribution of youth across high- and low-wage industry sectors helps to explain the gender wage gap but does not explain the wage gap between white youth and black and Latinx youth.

Key takeaways from the report:

  • Summer youth employment programs (SYEPs) have received increased attention in recent years in response to concerns about low levels of youth employment (ages 16 to 24) and their potential effects on young people’s long-term outcomes. While recent literature on SYEPs has acknowledged the importance of employer engagement in creating meaningful summer experiences, research has not extensively explored the role of employers in partnering with SYEPs to create viable bridges to the labor force for youth.

  • In this study, we use original qualitative data collected from three cities (New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) to investigate the role of SYEPs in supporting future local workforces by leveraging employer partnerships to build stronger workforce pathways for youth and discuss the role of SYEPs in promoting equitable opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

  • We describe the value of employer engagement in the development and implementation of summer programming, common characteristics of employer partnerships observed across cities, and strategies for building partnerships with employers.

  • Recommendations and considerations described in the report are summarized below.  Taken together, these findings provide a roadmap for increasing employer engagement and involvement in SYEPs.

    • Explore longer-term opportunities for youth engagement with the workforce system; creating continuity may be key to enhancing the longer-term effects of summer programming for youth

    • Provide robust job matching and placement support for employers and youth participating in SYEPs

    • Beyond emphasizing the value of SYEP participation for youth, an effective pitch to an employer should address employers’ unique workforce needs

    • Robust data collection and analysis can facilitate feedback mechanisms that promote employer retention and can more effectively link youth to longer-term job opportunities

  • An explicit focus on closing equity gaps in the process of employer engagement can help create more opportunities for youth and change employer hiring practices.

Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Job training Youth development
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center