During the latter half of the 20th Century, the early blooms of spring were also a signal to the nation’s teenagers: it’s time to find a job. About half of all Americans between 16 and 19 years old spent part of their summer break bagging groceries or slinging ice cream until the early 2000s. Then, the youth employment rate fell sharply and stayed low for the next two decades and through the Covid-19 pandemic. Teenage employment has since rebounded, with about one in three young people employed in July 2023.
Black and Hispanic teens are less likely to be employed than white students, both during the summer and the school year. They also are less likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, and earn a degree. The sort of community-based learning that teenagers’ jobs can impart, such as gaining employable skills and learning to meet professional expectations for responsibility, punctuality, and collaboration, has attracted the interest of policymakers looking to improve outcomes for at-risk students.
Our study focuses on Action for Boston Community Development, a large and established nonproﬁt that works in all of Boston’s 18 neighborhoods and serves a predominately young, school-aged, and low-income population. Prior to the pandemic, the organization used a computerized lottery system to select applicants to participate in the summer jobs program based on ID numbers and the number of available slots, which is determined by the amount of funding each year. This system eﬀectively assigned the oﬀer to participate at random.