Summer Youth Employment Initiative Under the Recovery Act

2009-2011
Prepared for
U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

The American economy lost an estimated 7.9 million jobs between the end of 2007 and fall 2009. Although joblessness was high for many groups, unemployment was particularly high for young adults, leading to concerns about potential lasting effects. On February 17, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law. Passed in response to the 2008 recession, the act’s purpose was to create jobs, pump money into the economy, and encourage spending. Through the act, states received $1.2 billion in funding for the workforce investment system to provide employment and training activities targeted to disadvantaged youth ages 14 to 21. Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) encouraged states and local workforce investment areas charged with implementing these activities to use the funds to create employment opportunities for these youth in summer 2009.

To gain insights into these summer initiatives, DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) contracted with Mathematica to conduct an implementation evaluation of the summer youth employment activities funded by the Recovery Act. Six major research questions guided the evaluation:

  1. How did the selected sites plan for and organize summer youth initiatives with funding from the Recovery Act?
  2. How did selected sites identify, recruit, and enroll at-risk youth?
  3. What were the characteristics of participants nationwide?
  4. What services were offered during the summer months in selected sites?
  5. What types of work experiences were offered to participating youth in selected sites?
  6. What lessons can be drawn about the implementation of summer youth initiatives?

To answer these questions, the evaluation drew upon two key data sources: (1) state performance data submitted monthly to ETA through December 31, 2009, that covered all youth participating in services funded by the Recovery Act from May through November 2009; and (2) in-depth site visits during July and August 2009 to 20 selected sites that implemented summer youth employment initiatives (SYEI) in 2009.

Findings

The study found that, although there were inevitable challenges, the SYEI was implemented successfully without any major problems. Nationwide, more than 345,000 youth enrolled between May and September 2009, and nearly 314,000 of those were placed in summer jobs. Administrators, youth, and employers provided positive feedback about their experiences, suggesting many perceived benefits of program participation for communities, employers, families, and youth. The study’s final report paints a national portrait of the program; provides an in-depth look at experiences of program staff, employers, and youth in the 20 selected sites; and identifies key lessons as DOL, states, and local areas plan for the future. Mathematica conducted several follow-on studies to the SYEI evaluation, including an examination of (1) programs targeted to TANF recipients in summer 2010, (2) the post-summer 2009 period, and (3) the employment of Indians and Native Americans in summers 2009 and 2010.