Filling the gaps to expand summer teen employment | City of Ideas

Posted 07/20/2017 by Natanja Craig, Director of Grassroots Programs and Ted McEnroe, Director of External Communications


It’s no secret that summer employment for teens has largely dried up in the past 20 years, and that we can have a role in addressing it. Today, just 26% of Massachusetts teenagers are employed , down from over 50% in 1999. Greater Boston’s young adult employment lags behind the rest of the state.

That reduction has different impacts for different groups, but it often affects lower-income teenagers disproportionately hard. Why? In many ways, the biggest impact is financial – the income from summer work can provide needed income to families that are burdened by rising housing, health care and food costs.

But a less obvious impact is that the tight job market turns the summer employment market into something resembling college admissions. Deadlines move into the winter months. Applications require essays, recommendations and connections. And many lower-income or non-English speaking students, burdened by other challenges or lacking the knowledge to navigate the system, find out too late that when they are ready to seek summer work, the positions are long since filled. That means they miss out on learning opportunities today that also help build a work history for jobs in the future.

The Boston Foundation this year decided to shift the focus of some of our summer funding to help address that. In addition to our investments in vital programs like Camp Harbor View and Associated Grant Makers’ The Summer Fund, we are targeting programs that provide teenagers with jobs that are made available late in the school year or as school ends.

The rationale is two-fold – first, it’s important to expand job opportunities across the city, especially in the neighborhoods where a vast percentage of the city’s young people live. But second, these jobs provide critical work experience. They reinforce expectations such as attendance, promptness, skill development, and teamwork that are vital for successful careers.

A second group we are targeting is one that often falls through the cracks – 12-to-14 year-olds.

Many summer programs (and there still aren’t enough of them) provide camp experiences for younger kids or work experience for older ones. But these kids – who might see camps as too babyish but don’t qualify for work opportunities, fall in the cracks. A number of programs, by organizations like Boston’s BCYFSociedad Latina and others, create a hybrid experience with camp-like activities alongside supervised work experiences. And at the end, participants collect a stipend – for many of them the first real money they have ever earned in their lives.

Without programs like these, we create a city where young people who most need activities, skill development, income have no place to go except the streets. Summer job programs, even those intended to reach these youths, often attract those with the most entrepreneurial spirit and most robust support networks. There’s nothing wrong with that – but we must also make sure we aren’t shutting out a large percentage of students who also need opportunities or risk being left behind.

The Boston Foundation's summer grantmaking was singled out recently in Inside Philanthropy. Read more at