Chicago Fed Insights

Supporting Chicago’s Youth Through Summer Employment and Beyond

May 24, 2021

Chicago Fed staff and community leaders discussed the importance of summer jobs programs for Chicago’s youth and identified ways to strengthen these organized efforts over the coming months in the virtual forum, “Brighter Prospects for Chicago’s Youth: Strengthening Summer Jobs and Beyond,” on May 5, 2021. Beginning in July 2020, through Project Hometown events, the Chicago Fed has brought focus to bringing about a more inclusive recovery from the pandemic for all the communities we serve.

In opening remarks, Charlie Evans, CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, explained that since the pandemic started, youth across the country have had to make sacrifices to keep others safe, and far too many have had to face isolation, housing instability, food insecurity, and uncertain job prospects. “Left unaddressed, these disruptions could leave long-lasting scars and make it even more difficult for youth to achieve their potential,” he said.

Sybil Madison, Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services for the City of Chicago, confirmed these disruptions, reporting first that racial disparities in remote school attendance widened during the pandemic in Chicago’s public high schools. Attendance dropped substantially, particularly for Black and Latinx students. Education leaders have expressed anecdotally that the high absenteeism partially owes to some high schoolers working to help support their families during challenging economic times. However, Madison further explained these were not likely good-quality work experiences.

Madison added that the period of remote schooling, which ended on April 13, 2021, has been hard on students, particularly on adolescents, leading to social isolation, the loss of rituals like prom and homecoming, and also the loss of transitional rituals, for example, acclimating to freshman year in high school. Moreover, Madison reported that two- and four-year colleges in the Chicago area experienced significant decreases in the number of students transitioning to college last fall, and given the decline, the number of “opportunity youth”–those that are neither in school nor working is estimated to have increased by over 100%. Iona Calhoun-Battiste, director of opportunity youth and employment strategies at Thrive Chicago, added that based on data for the year ending in the spring of 2020, the unemployment rate among young adults rose from 8% to 24%.

Expanding possibilities

Summer jobs programs help youth develop soft skills and provide access to mentors. Calhoun-Battiste said that Chicago’s organized summer jobs programs are a step in the right direction to help targeted youth reengage in healthy and supportive work experiences this summer and are particularly important in light of the pandemic. Sara Heller, assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan, who studies the benefits of summer jobs programs, reported that youth typically earn $700 to $900 in summer job programs, most of which is spent in their local communities. Another important finding is that even though neither employment nor earnings among young people increase noticeably two to four years following summer jobs participation, such programs appear to substantially reduce young people’s likelihood of interacting with the criminal justice system, such as by lowering arrests for violent crime by 30–40% during the summer of employment and in the year after. Heller added that these programs may generate other benefits, for example, by improving skills, confidence, and time management outside of employment. Good-quality work experiences provide opportunities to be mentored, Madison reiterated, which is especially important for youth with few (or no) good role models in their personal lives. The research is clear, Madison summarized, “employing youth during the summer pays a lot of dividends. Those dividends pay themselves forward in those young people’s lives, but also in the health and growth of the city.”

Strengthening the value of summer jobs

Panelists explored opportunities for summer jobs programs to build on the important role they already serve for youth. Expanding summer jobs is a way to strengthen resiliency in the face of economic shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic, Evans explained, adding that as part of the Fed’s mandate to maintain full employment, “the Chicago Fed is committed to improving economic opportunities for youth and supporting programs.”

Madison emphasized her department’s goal of reconnecting youth to their passions and possibilities, as well as providing material support for youth to find jobs. She noted the critical need for teachers, mentors, employers, and service providers to collaborate on “a warm and sticky handoff” as youth navigate transitions, especially as they go from summer jobs to school and, eventually, careers. For example, the city of Chicago and the City Colleges are working together to reduce “summer melt” (meaning students who do not return to school, enroll in college, or get a job) by placing post-secondary school navigators across Chicago schools in order to support youth transitioning to college, she said.

Calhoun-Battiste explained that One Summer Chicago has a one-stop job application process for youth, which is instrumental in more obtaining jobs. The central application process allows youth to have easy access to many different employers, giving them opportunities to try different summer jobs during their young adult and college years, she said. Thrive Chicago is working to streamline the process for young adults seeking jobs this summer and is working to offer more job options. Thrive also provides a pipeline of support services, including helping with the transition back to school in the fall or to further employment. Part of Thrive’s success, she remarked, stems from their “warm and sticky handoffs” offered through their reconnection hubs to help bridge youths, schools, and employers. Through One Summer Chicago, the city of Chicago is offering 26,000 jobs to youths this summer, Madison reported, yet despite this achievement, there is still a large unmet demand for youth jobs. To fill this gap, Madison urged the private sector to support summer jobs programs.

Employer engagement

Michael Chiapetta, director of Chicago market development at Accenture, encouraged employers to offer summer jobs and apprenticeships by connecting with city colleges and nonprofits, remarking “the more employers we have, the more we can funnel opportunities.” Under Chiapetta’s leadership, Accenture has collaborated successfully with One Summer Chicago and Chicago City Colleges to connect students from local colleges and tech-focused nonprofits to job opportunities not only at Accenture but also at more than 50 other companies in the Chicago area. Accenture’s apprentice network gives youth a solid foundation based on real world experiences, Chiappetta said, adding that the apprentice hires at Accenture represent 48 zip codes in Chicagoland, with 40% of its participants coming from the South and West sides of Chicago, where there has traditionally been a lack of opportunity for young people to gain such experience.

Heller noted that employers are not often trained to work with young people in youth development programs, so One Summer Chicago and other programs “provide a bridge and a translation in between supervisors and young people in a way that builds youth development that helps not just the youth but also the employers.” Heller suggested that corporate partners can play a role by helping youth overcome barriers (or “frictions”) to accessing jobs, for example, by funding Ubers or bus passes for those youth that lack access to transportation to get to work. Some young people may also need help completing paperwork and obtaining government-issued IDs, which are required for employment. Chiapetta added that efforts are needed to address the stigma associated with jobs programs by educating potential employers about well-designed and successful programs.

Madison stressed that “private-public partnerships are the only way that we will ever ensure that every young person, regardless of their zip code, high school, or the jobs that their parents have, [gain] opportunities to discover who they are and what they want to pursue by engaging in meaningful work as teens and young adults.”

To join efforts to promote and expand summer jobs for Chicago’s youth, visit for more information.

The views expressed in this post are our own and do not reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago or the Federal Reserve System.

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