Gotham Gazette, August 2020
Every morning, Joaquin Soto wakes up to participate in Summer Bridge, New York City government’s 2020 summer youth employment program. Instead of commuting to a work site, Soto turns on his computer, attends Zoom meetings, watches videos on professional development, and takes quizzes to show what he’s learned.
“The application was really straightforward and very accessible,” said Soto, a 17-year-old from Cypress Hills. “But I feel like there’s definitely been some kind of trouble for people that are navigating it now and understanding the hours that are required, and what exactly is expected from them.”
Soto is one of 35,000 participants working in remote job placements for young people this year. In April, Mayor de Blasio cancelled the summer youth employment program, or SYEP, citing the uncertainty of COVID-19 and tough economic straits — its removal would save the city roughly $124 million, as outlined in his April savings plan. But after much criticism and intense lobbying by youth, advocates, and other elected officials, he agreed to partially reinstate it at the eleventh hour, on June 30, after a tumultuous budget negotiation with the City Council that centered on dealing with the coronavirus fallout, the city’s dire financial picture given billions in lost tax revenue, an increase in gun violence, and calls to “defund the NYPD” amid renewed Black Lives Matter protests.
The push to save some version of the summer youth employment program included ideas for remote programming. The timing and scope of the summer jobs have proved challenging for teens and providers, though those involved generally feel appreciative to have work for youth at all given that the entire program was almost wiped away.