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Why It’s So Important that Cities Run Summer Youth Employment, Even During a Pandemic

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Opinion| Alicia Sasser Modestino

Gotham Gazette| August 5, 2020

Early work experience — such as that provided by summer jobs — can keep teens out of trouble, improve soft skills, and build strong pathways for their futures. Based on this belief, over the past several decades policymakers and business leaders have joined together to create summer youth employment programs across many U.S. cities. Generally, these programs provide youth age 14 to 24 the opportunity to work 20-25 hours per week for a six-week period from early July through mid-August and earn the minimum wage. 

Yet the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic placed summer jobs programs in jeopardy at the exact moment when they are needed the most. The unemployment rate for youth age 16 to 19 years nearly tripled from 11.0 percent in February to 31.9 percent in April, as many businesses that employ youth such as retail, eating, and drinking establishments were forced to shut down to reduce the spread of infection. At the same time, some cities initially canceled their summer jobs program—much to the dismay of youth and their advocates.

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