I’ll never forget my first summer job. I was a junior counselor at a summer camp in Southwest, Washington, DC. At 14 years old, I was tasked with organizing materials and preparing activities for a group of energetic five year olds. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt, completing my assigned duties and cashing my first check! That experience was the beginning of my vibrant teenage work experience that led to a 5 year internship with the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in the Office of Computer and Communication Systems.
Unfortunately, young people today will not experience such joy. Nationally, 16.5 % of youth (16- 24 yr old) are unemployed. For Latino youth that figure jumps to 20.5 percent and for African-Americans that rate jumps to a staggering 30.2 percent- four times the national average. Specifically youth in Washington, DC, from economically depressed neighborhoods experience unemployment rates as high as 89 percent.
According to a report released by the Justice Policy Institute, programs are needed to provide quality professional development training, mentoring, job placement and supervision to combat the youth unemployment crisis. The report acknowledges that delayed entry into the labor market, especially for underesourced youth, could have lasting consequences in hire-ability and earnings.
Quality youth employment programs provide youth with the experiences and knowledge needed to make informed career decisions. Research suggests that work-based learning may increase school attendance, decrease dropout rates, reduce school suspensions and increase school engagement. One study found students who participated in work- based learning were more likely to attend college or immediately enter the workforce than their peers.
The lessons that I learned while working at the summer camp and internship placement proved invaluable and truly shaped my future career decisions.
Sadly, in today’s difficult labor market, many of the entry-level positions that were traditionally available to youth are filled with out-of-work adults.