Summer jobs for youth pay off
Study shows boost in graduation rates
WHEN THE TOPIC of the achievement gap comes up, the conversation invariably veers to all the out-of-school factors facing low-income students and students of color that are correlated with poorer outcomes on academic performance, high school graduation, and other measures.
New research evidence among Boston high school students points to an out-of-school factor that can help close those gaps: a job.
Programs that provide summer jobs for lower-income high school students are often touted as a way to keep young people busy and out of trouble, while putting some badly needed money in their pockets. Research has shown a clear decrease in criminal activity among those in such programs. But the evidence has been less clear on the impact of youth employment on school-based outcomes.
A new study looking at the experience of Boston high school students taking part in a summer jobs program, however, shows clear benefits on graduation rates. The study, led by Alicia Sasser Modestino, the research director at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, found that students who took part in a summer jobs program were 4.4 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than those who did not land jobs. They also had a “small but significant improvement in overall GPA” in the year following the summer job.
“I could entitle this paper, ‘90 percent of life is just showing up,’” she said of the study, published in the journal Education Finance & Policy.
The improvement in graduation rates from summer job participation is roughly equal to the gap seen in graduation rates between low-income students and their better-off peers, Modestino said.
The correlation between summer jobs and improved school attendance was particularly strong for groups of students who struggle the most, with the effect three times as strong for male students and those with a history of chronic absenteeism. “So it’s really making the difference for those young people who were on the margins,” said Modestino.
The research made use of the fact that summer jobs programs often have more applicants than available slots. Looking at Boston students who applied for summer jobs in 2015 through the anti-poverty organization ABCD, which used a lottery to randomly award positions, the study compared outcomes of those students who got a job through lottery with those who did not. That eliminated any bias that would come from comparing students who sought a job with those who didn’t.
Students in the summer jobs program worked a maximum of 25 hours per week, with an additional 20 hours spent receiving “job-readiness training,” which included evaluating their learning strengths and skills, work on “communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution,” and learning how to draft a resume and prepare for an interview.
Modestino said Boston has played a major role in showcasing the value of youth summer jobs nationally. Based on research showing the benefits of summer jobs, then-Mayor Marty Walsh boosted city funding for youth jobs in 2020 by $4.4 million, tapping the first round of federal COVID relief money.
“Mayor Walsh becomes Secretary of Labor Walsh and begins hanging out with his friend, Joe Biden,” said Modestino. In 2021, Biden began encouraging cities to use American Rescue Plan money to fund summer youth jobs.
“When you combine all these things together it’s such a no-brainer,” she said. “Making sure we can have enough funding to have all young people participate who want to is essential.”