Panel Paper: Making Summer Matter: The Impact of Youth Employment on Academic Performance

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 9:10 AM
Enchantment Ballroom B (Hyatt)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jacob Leos-Urbel1, Amy Ellen Schwartz2, Megan Silander2 and Matthew Wiswall3, (1)Stanford University, (2)New York University, (3)Arizona State University
Holding a summer job is a rite of passage in American adolescence, a first rung towards adulthood and self-sufficiency.  However, over the past decade youth employment during the summer has decreased significantly: more than half of teens worked during the summer of 2000, compared to less than one-third of teens by 2009 (Morisi, 2010). Summer youth employment has the potential to benefit high school students’ educational outcomes and employment trajectories, especially for low-income youth.  Despite the prevalence of youth employment during summer, evidence of the impact of summer jobs on youth outcomes is limited to only a few studies (Leos-Urbel, 2013; Walker & Viella-Velez, 1992).  Our research examines summer youth employment, beginning with academic outcomes, by studying New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).  SYEP provides jobs to youth ages 14-24 and due to high demand for summer jobs allocates slots through a random lottery system, allowing for causal estimates of program impact. 

Our study uses student-level data from two primary sources: SYEP files from the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (the SYEP administrating agency) and New York City Department of Education administrative and survey data files. We have matched students from each of these files for the 2005-2010 program years, encompassing approximately 300,000 student SYEP applicants. Each observation has a unique identifier which allows us to track students over their tenure in NYC public schools.

Importantly, because more students apply to SYEP than can be served, students are selected by lottery, creating a naturally-occurring experiment. Specifically, the lottery process creates a control group of youth who apply to SYEP but are not chosen, and whom, due to the random nature of the lottery, we can use to compare to the SYEP participants to estimate causal effects of program participation.

This research builds upon a preliminary investigation of the impact of SYEP in 2007, which found increased attendance and increases in attempting and passing statewide high school math and English exams for high-risk student groups (Leos-Urbel, 2013).  Our study examines the impact of SYEP on a wider range of academic performance outcomes, including test taking, passing rates and scores and credit accumulation. It also attends to variation in these outcomes with a broader set of SYEP participants (2005-2010) from which to generalize.  Our research questions include:

  • Does participation in New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program improve academic performance?
  • Do the effects of SYEP on academic performance vary by program, job, school, or student characteristics?
  • Do the effects of SYEP vary by program dosage, including the number of hours or weeks worked during the summer, or number of years of participation in SYEP?

Our preliminary findings suggest that SYEP has positive impacts on some student academic outcomes, and that these effects are heterogeneous.  Future analyses will focus on examining program, student and school characteristics that might explain these variations.