Summer Youth Employment Program Helps Address Education and Income Disparities

Participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program

This summer, 77 young people from low-income households in Washtenaw County gained meaningful work experience at the university through the Summer Youth Employment Program, a unique partnership between Poverty Solutions, the Ginsberg Center, the Youth Policy Lab, Michigan Works! and University Human Resources.

Ranging in age from 16–24, the youths were offered work experiences that enabled them to build skills in communication, conflict resolution, leadership development, professionalism and networking.

Disparities in education and economic outcomes affect youth from different parts of Washtenaw County. Summer jobs programs for at-risk-youth are a key strategy for closing these gaps.

Such programs provide income for youth and their families, structured summer activities and improve later academic performance.

Research shows that programs like these help build work-related networks. These networks, along with the income and job experience, can make a long-term difference in economic mobility.

 “It’s an amazing opportunity to identify a strategy to promote economic mobility in the community, to look at youth who may not have had networks that would link them to jobs at a young age,” says Julia Weinart, assistant director of Poverty Solutions.

“Having that gateway into the university and into the resources has been incredible,” says Andrea Plevak, director of the Washtenaw Country Office of Community & Economic Development. “Through that, we have leveraged a partnership to support and double the number of youth that we were able to serve this year.”

Thirty-two supervisors across campus and Michigan Medicine managed the summer employees who were expected to work 20 hours a week over a ten-week period. Program participants were also paired with a U-M student “success coach” to help them negotiate logistical and other challenges.

Eighty-eight percent of the young people who gained job experience felt that the program met or exceeded their expectations. Many reflected that networking and making meaningful connections were the most valuable aspect of the experience.

 “(It) helps you improve soft skills like communication, financial literacy and college readiness. It will be the best and most successful choice you ever make,” said one participant.

The Summer Youth Employment Program is one of the first of its kind to be conducted by a major university. Poverty Solutions plans to measure program outcomes such as youth employee satisfaction, high-school diploma attainment, permanent employment, college or vocational training enrollment and also the changes in attitudes in the youth employee supervisors, and to translate those findings to inform youth jobs programs developed by government agencies, large employers and others.

“We are bringing the resources of the University of Michigan to bear on a poverty-related issue,” says Poverty Solutions director Luke Shaefer.

For more information about the Summer Youth Employment Program and the experiences of young people who participated in 2017, watch this video. Learn more about Poverty Solutions by visiting poverty.umich.edu.