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NULab Faculty Alicia Sasser Modestino Quoted on Teen Employment

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In a recent Fortune Well story covering the slow climb of teen employment rates, NULab faculty Alicia Sasser Modestino was quoted as an expert on the matter. Since the pandemic, Sasser Modestino says, “the labor market for teens has grown stronger and stronger.” The economic conditions exacerbated by COVID resulted in employers “rediscover[ing] teenagers as a source of labor because they were desperate,” Sasser Modestino comments.

More than just summer pocket money, Sasser Modestino says that “working helps youth learn more about the jobs they like and don’t like,” citing her own kids as examples, who worked in a pasta factory one summer. She reflected: “It’s hard work—you’re standing up all day, wearing a hair net” and that “just by having that on-the-job experience, you learn a lot about where you want to end up in life and what it takes to get there.”

“Getting your first paycheck is an incredible learning in terms of not only all the paperwork it takes to get hired but also how to manage your money,” says Sasser Modestino. “They’re realizing when taxes get taken out and how to even cash the check—a lot of times it’s their first time setting up bank accounts and learning about direct deposit and how much to save.”

The story also cites Sasser Modestino’s 2023 study published in Education Finance and Policy, “School’s Out: How Summer Youth Employment Programs Impact Academic Outcomes.” It looked at the school performance of teens from low-income neighborhoods who won one of the 10,000 Boston Summer Youth Employment Program lottery slots to be matched with summer work—typically at city agencies, nonprofits, camps, and parks—and found that those who got jobs through the program were 7% more likely to graduate from high school on time and 22% less likely to drop out of high school during the four years after participating in the program relative to a control group (students not offered job slots). There was also a slight advantage (of 6.8%) in grade-point averages for those who had the jobs.

And while it was the structured, career-focused employment program jobs that seemed to have to most benefit in terms of adult mentors and practical lessons, “working is better than not working,” Sasser Modestino says. “So even in the Summer Youth Employment Program, we have those entry-level, camp-counselor type jobs, but those are the jobs you need to have first to learn how to show up on time, how to work as a team.”

You can read the full story, written by Beth Greenfield, on Fortune Well, “A summer job can set teens up for a lifetime of success, experts say.”

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