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Officials Call for Expansion of Summer Jobs Program


INTRO: Every year around this time, tens of thousands of New York teenangers enter the lottery. And no, I’m not talking about Powerball. Instead, it’s the Summer Youth Employment Program. Applications for the city-funded internship program opened this week. And if this year’s lottery is like the last, over half the young adults who apply won’t get in. Now though, a growing chorus of advocates and city officials are working to change that. Adrian Ma has the details.

MA: Last year, a professor from the Wharton school of business did a study on the city summer jobs program. And he found that the teens and young adults who went through the program had much lower chance of being incarcerated or killed four years later than those who didn’t. In other words, he said the program literally saves teens lives. Like 17-year-old Christa Hill.

HILL During the program, like I would hear like a lot of them were shot and a lot of them were killed. And most of them ain’t have nothing to turn to, they ain’t have no family, they ain’t have no jobs, most of them ain’t go to school. So what else was there but for them to turn to the streets? 

MA: She says last summer, while she was working in her placement as a counselor at a community center, some of her friends got involved with gangs.

HILL I would’ve went down the same road as my friends and they’re dead right now. 

MA: And she says, if some of her friends had had a job like hers, they might be here right now.

HILL Like you’re getting paid for something that’s going to benefit your future so why not? It’s going to save your life. That’s saved my life. 

MA: Stories like these are just one reason why many officials are calling for a major expansion of the city’s summer jobs program. According to an NYU study, teens who went through the program also perform better on state regents exams than those who didn’t. Under a so-called “universal” plan, any eligible young adult who applies for a job, would get one. But getting to that point is estimated to cost the city around 200 million dollars. And with hundreds of thousands of adults in New York without jobs why spend more money on program that mainly benefits teens? Andrea Bowen works with an advocacy group called the Campaign for Summer Jobs.

BOWEN You know, it’s easier to give people a leg up on the way up than to help them if they’re suffering later on.

MA: Bowen says, job aid can have an immediate impact on teens. And the money they make can supplement their parents’ incomes.

BOWEN: It allows them to buy school supplies. It allows them to buy clothes.  It allows them to buy things that would otherwise come out of their parents’ pockets.

MA: So the city’s program keeps young adults out of trouble, and helps their families out with some extra income. But what does it do for them in the long run?

TRESCHAN The employment experience per se, is actually not the strongest part of the summer youth employment program.

MA: That’s Lazar Treschan with the nonprofit Community Service Society, and while he’s in favor of the idea of a universal summer jobs program, he says the current model hasn’t really been shown to increase future earning potential or college enrollment. The same Wharton study that shows that kids who went through the program had a lower chance of incarceration and mortality? It also shows that young adults who went through the program weren’t any more likely to go to college, or earn more money, than those who didn’t.

TRESCHAN We don’t see huge employment outcomes in the long run.

MA: But that’s the future. In the meantime, young adults want jobs now. Andre White works for the agency that runs the summer jobs program, the Department of Youth and Community Development. And he says he hears from kids all the time who were passed over in the lottery.

WHITE They’re difficult conversations, I’m going to be honest with you, especially when you have a young person who’s eager and wants to work.

MA: But White says, getting to “universal” jobs for all youths would require doubling the program’s current budget. And even if the funds were available today, he says the expansion would still take a few years, because employers have to be vetted, and in some cases trained to make sure they can handle the influx of summer interns.

WHITE So although we could scale up, you don’t want to give them too much, that they might not survive that year, right?

MA: Many on the city council seem to agree that making it better starts with more funding. Councilman Jumaane Williams is one of several members spearheading the initiative.

WILLIAMS I think we have a chance to do it. Everyone seems to want to do it. So it’s just about putting our money where our progressive mouths are.

MA: Williams says, while the political will may be there, securing the funding will be a job unto self. Adrian Ma Columbia Radio News.

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