Panel Paper: The Impact of Summer Youth Employment On Academic Outcomes: Evidence From a Large-Scale Lottery

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 1:40 PM
Salon D (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jacob Leos-Urbel, NYU

This paper aims to improve our understanding of the impact of summer work experiences on high school students’ educational outcomes by studying NYC’s summer youth employment program (SYEP).  Demand for SYEP’s summer jobs greatly exceeds supply and program slots are allocated through a lottery system, allowing for plausibly causal estimates of the relationship between summer work and academic outcomes.  Summer jobs have the potential to provide youth with new skills, income, and a positive developmental experience that may in turn improve academic success. Research on summer jobs is especially salient given the decrease in the availability of summer work opportunities for teens in the current economic downturn generally, as well as budget cuts to public programs including NYC’s SYEP itself (Belotti et al 2010, Sum et al 2008, Koebler 2011).  However, there has been little rigorous evaluation of summer youth employment programs (LaLonde 2003) and few if any studies have estimated the impact of summer work experiences specifically on high school students’ academic outcomes.  

Previous research on high school student employment and its impact on academic and other outcomes has focused on work during the school year, when there may be greater tradeoffs between the developmental and financial benefits of working, and the possible crowding out of time devoted to academics (Rothstein 2007; Sabia 2009; Kalenkoski and Pabilonia 2009).  Other related research has studied publicly-funded youth employment programs for out-of-school youth.  Further still, research documents the role of summer experiences for elementary school students in contributing to the academic achievement gap along socio-economic lines (Alexander et al 2007, Cooper 1997) although less is known about the role of summer for older students. 

This analysis capitalizes on the random nature of the SYEP lottery to estimate the program’s impact on educational outcomes including school attendance, statewide high school math and English exams attempted, and scores on these exams. SYEP is administered by NYC’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), and youth apply through community-based organizations (CBOs) throughout the city which serve as intake sites and supervise job placements.  This analysis uses SYEP data for the summer 2007 program year matched to NYC Department of Education files.  The study sample includes 36,630 SYEP applicants who were students in grades 8-11 in NYC public schools during the prior school year. Students applied to SYEP through 51 CBOs located in each of the five NYC boroughs, and lotteries to determine participation were conducted for applicants to each CBO.         

Preliminary analyses validate the random nature of the SYEP lottery, and find that SYEP significantly increases school attendance in the following school year.  Increases in attendance are larger for students who may be at the greatest educational risk; those with less than 90 percent attendance in the year before SYEP, and students ages 16 and over who have more autonomy in school attendance decisions.  Initial findings also indicate that SYEP leads to small significant increases in students’ attempting of some optional exams but no increases in test scores.

Full Paper: