Summer Jobs for Youth Reduce Violent Crime

By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity


It turns out that having a summer job can reduce violent crime among young people from highly disadvantaged neighborhoods—even more than a year after the summer job has ended. During the summer of 2012, Chicago’s One Summer Plus program offered eight weeks of subsidized, part-time summer employment, an adult job mentor, and—in some cases—a social emotional learning curriculum to youth with barriers to employment. An experimental study evaluating One Summer Plus found that over the next 16 months, violent crime arrests among youth who were offered summer jobs decreased by 43 percent compared to youth who weren’t.

By helping to implement One Summer Plus, SGA Youth & Family Services (SGA) has been central to Chicago’s efforts to curb violence and increase summer employment opportunities for the city’s vulnerable youth. SGA works in over forty communities across Chicago and offers a wide variety of services ranging from operating community health clinics to educational support and, of course, youth employment opportunities.

The National Initiatives team spoke with Jamie Roth, SGA’s Director of Workforce Development, to discuss the organization’s role in One Summer Plus and its broader work to combat poverty and bring hope and change to local communities across Chicago.

National Initiatives: Jamie, it’s great to talk with you today! Could we begin with you telling me a bit about SGA’s history here in Chicago?

Jamie Roth: Sure! SGA was founded in 1911. We were originally formed to deliver scholarship support for low-income young people in Chicago, but the scope of our work has grown dramatically over the last one hundred years. Today we’re a very broad organization with focused initiatives in Roseland, Woodlawn, and Brighton Park, and we offer a wide range of services in communities across the entire city.  SGA empowers youth and families to be the heroes in their own lives while impacting communities by providing access to life readiness skills and opportunities.

What sets SGA apart is the extent and variety of our innovative programming. We truly offer cradle-to-career services, accompanying children, youth, and their families at every step in their development. We have programs that range from supporting young parents and preventing infant mortality to programs that help young adults obtain the skills necessary for a career in construction and the trades.

We always aim to create innovative programs, seek cooperative partnerships and the necessary resources to effectively deliver these programs, and ensure that we are delivering outcomes. This includes having an evaluation team that assesses our programs to assure that we truly are having an impact.

National Initiatives: SGA was one of the organizations chosen to take part in the implementation of Chicago’s’ One Summer Plus program, which led to a 43 percent drop in violent crime arrests among participants. What was SGA’s role in the program, and why do you think it was so successful?

Jamie Roth: One Summer Chicago in 2014 was the first time we were able to provide youth employment opportunities as part of our programming with the City of Chicago—before One Summer Plus, we worked with the City to offer social emotional learning (SEL) programming. SEL is a process that helps people understand and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behavior in positive ways. As part of One Summer Chicago SYEP (Summer Youth Employment Program) in 2014, we provided 150 youth with employment opportunities. SGA worked with the Chicago Public Libraries and worksites in various sectors to provide meaningful employment opportunities throughout the City.  This number was up from the original 95 that SGA services in previous years in partnership with the City of Chicago.

National Initiatives: You mentioned SEL in the context of these employment programs. Why is SEL important and effective in the context of employment services for youth?

Jamie Roth: Many young people in Chicago experience trauma and stress early in their lives simply because they grow up in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Traditional employment services such as resume writing and interview preparation can help our youth get entry-level positions, but we don’t want to stop there. We want to focus on the tools youth need to be successful and grow, and that’s where I think SEL plays an important role.

As part of our emphasis on SEL, SGA provides staff and mentors to guide a young person’s development not for them, but with them. The goal is to expose a young person to what life could be for them, help them realize just how much potential and ability they already have, and provide them with the confidence and opportunity to realize this potential. With our focus on SEL, we go beyond basic workforce development. We engage our young people in a larger personal development process that includes nurturing critical thinking and problem solving skills that will serve them in the workplace and beyond.

National Initiatives: What are some areas of unaddressed need in youth employment services?

Jamie Roth: In general, Chicago has consistently grown over the years to provide resources and innovative strategies for dealing with youth violence and unemployment. There is always work to be done and more youth to service.  It would also be great to see increased involvement from the business community. We’re always looking for more employment exposure opportunities for the young people we’re working with, who may not get them otherwise.

National Initiatives: What would you identify as the core component of SGA’s success?

Jamie Roth: I can’t emphasize enough just how important SGA’s range and depth of services is. We’re really proud that our organization can offer cradle-to-career services, working with individuals from birth up to and through their obtaining stable employment that puts them on a trajectory to grow. We also make a sincere effort to hire people from the communities where we work who can serve as positive role models. Everything we do at SGA is part of something larger than just help with resumes or getting a job—we bring hope to neighborhoods where it’s too often lacking.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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