Youth Unemployment at Crisis Levels in NYC

Youth Unemployment at Crisis Levels in NYC

Youth Unemployment at Crisis Levels in NYC
June 21, 2015

Though the Great Recession was declared over several years ago, experts say for New York City’s young people looking for that first summer job the outlook remains dismal. And while nationally the official top line unemployment rate continues to drop, there are clear signs that the ranks of New Yorkers in the 16 to 24 age cohort that are neither enrolled in school nor working continues to grow. 

Experts say such a hobbled economic start can haunt young people through out the rest of their adult life. 

New York City’s Community Service Society, a 170-year-old anti-poverty nonprofit, estimates that as many as one in seven of the city’s young people in this age bracket fall into this idle category. By CSS’s latest estimate, 186,000 young people ages 16 to 24, almost four Yankee Stadiums full, find themselves sidelined at what is widely considered to be the most critical part of any young adult’s life path. These trends are particularly pronounced for young people of color.  

“Unfortunately, however, neither the Mayor nor the City Council have taken leadership with regards to this population,” wrote David Jones, CSS’s president and CEO, earlier this month in an analysis of the pending municipal budget.    



A recent Brookings Institute analysis on social mobility concluded that the unemployment rate for those under 25 was “twice the national average and remains above their pre-recession levels.” Researchers at Brookings found that a six-month bout of unemployment for someone at age 22 has major consequences going forward and “reduces wages by eight percent the following year and reduces future earnings by $22,000 over the next decade.” 

“Those earning losses seem to be the product of lost work experience, depreciating market skills and the negative signals that unemployment sends to employers,” wrote Isabell Sawhill and Quentin Karpilow, the authors of the Brookings report.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics the labor force participation rate for the entire 16- to 24-year-old age bracket back in 1989 was 77.5 percent. By last summer it had dropped to 60.5 percent. In its analysis the Department writes: “The summer labor force participation rate of youth had been declining for many years.”

These trends are even worse for young people of color and represent a full-blown crisis with generational consequences. While for white young workers, labor force engagement was at 63.2 percent, their African-American peers' rate for labor force participation was just 52.9 percent. For Hispanics, 56.2 percent were in this grouping that includes people that are working or looking for a job. Just 45.8 percent of young Asians fell into that category. 



Up on 137th Street in Harlem 16-year-old Christopher Espinato said he has been pounding the pavement looking for his first summer job. “It’s hard for me,” Espinato said. “I have been looking for a job for three or four weeks now. Any restaurant, any food store, Foot Locker shoes, anything.” Espinato, whose favorite academic subject is physics, hopes to go into engineering, but says right now he needs an employer to give him that first chance. “They are looking for people that got more experience than me but I just want to get started and help my family out and get a job and have my own money.”  

Chartrisse Thompson, another Harlem resident, said she was lucky to get a slot in New York City’s Summer Youth Employment program working as a clerical aide in a neighborhood shelter for families displaced by fire. Every year two-thirds, or close to 100,000, of the young applicants to the city sponsored summer jobs program are turned away empty handed. “Well, summer youth is a lottery and everybody understands it is a lottery,” Thompson said. “If your name doesn’t get chosen you don’t get chosen.”

Thompson thinks that every applicant that wants a city-sponsored summer job should get a shot at one. “It should be fair,” she said. The 22-year-old who is working now as a delivery supervisor for Hale and Hearty Soups said summer employment was a critical part of her education. “It teaches us a lot. The job as a clerical aide helped me to learn how to file, how to put data together.” But she adds, “if you don’t have that first experience you won’t have the ambition to go out and do anything.”



With just a couple of weeks to go before New York City’s July 1 budget deadline, the Council is in a full court press to get Mayor Bill de Blasio to sign off on adding 10,000 additional slots to the city’s Summer Youth Employment program. “As it stands right now there are only 35,000 funded slots,” said Lazar Treschan, the director of youth policy for the Community Service Society who also worked in a senior position at the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development during the Bloomberg years.

Treschan said that even if the Council is successful, and the city funds 45,000 slots for next year, 90,000 young people will likely be turned away as they have been for many years. The program provides six-week employment opportunities for New Yorkers ages 14 to 24 on a lottery basis. In 2009 the city funded 52,000 summer youth jobs but in 2012 that number dropped to just under 30,000. 

The City Council’s push to add in more summer jobs coincides with increasing concern about an up tick in gun violence and murders that de Blasio has linked to increased street youth gang activity.

Brooklyn City Councilman Jumanne Williams said increasing the number of summer employment slots has to be part a multi-faceted community-based response to the latest troubling crime trends. “One of the biggest things that we can do, particularly with the increase of violence in some of these communities is to provide jobs for these young people, “ Williams told City & State. “Every study shows how important a job is in the summer months. It actually decreases arrests and particularly violent crimes. One study shows the effect it has lasted for sixteen months after just an eight week job.”

Staten Island Councilwoman Debbie Rose credits her first summer job in the city program with setting her on a path to her current position. “I was in Summer Youth Employment and it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Rose told City & State. “I worked on Census work. We did a survey and it taught me I had to be on time to work. It taught me I had to dress appropriately.” Rose recalled that thanks to her mother she also learned something about discipline and the value of money. “My mom made me save half of what I made that summer." 

“It is unacceptable to see that we are not making that a priority,” said Councilwoman Inez Barron from Brooklyn. “It encourages children to have better self esteem. It makes them more responsible.” For Barron, her first summer job was in the performing arts. “I was very much into dancing and there was an organization called the Brooklyn Muse” which had “a program that offered training and courses to the community and so I was first employed as a modern dancer.”

“As a member of leadership and the budget negotiating team, it is one of our key issues,” Councilman David Greenfield told City & State. “Certainly we are pushing the administration as hard as we possibly can. I will add to that we are looking to get year round jobs as well. There is a very strong feeling among members of the Council that this is one of the ways that you deal with the rise in crime—give young people a legitimate outlet of what to do after school and hopefully that means after hours and in the summer as well.”

“For me, my first job was when I was 13 [and] was working in a fast food restaurant,” recalled Greenfield. The Brooklyn lawmaker says each one of his summer jobs built on his prior experience. “It gives you skills that you then take into the next summer job. I was a camp counselor and then I was a waiter. These jobs literally set people up for their life.”

City Councilman Brad Lander, the Council’s deputy leader for policy, is in favor of a full summer youth employment. “I love the idea of saying there should be a position for every kid who applied and wants one. Start there,” Lander said. The Brooklyn Democrat said the city’s ability to take on such a commitment would be hampered by the decline in support for such programs in Congress and in Albany. “Some of the challenge here is that this was originally all funded with federal money. We have seen this across the budget the share of the city’s budget that is funded by state and federal resources is down dramatically.”

For Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez the key to getting the resources needed for youth summer employment has to include reaching out to the business community something that de Blasio has already had some success at doing. “The private sector should be part of this effort so that we can provide the opportunity for every young person who wants to work during the summer time for them to get a job,” Rodriguez told City & State. 



Negotiations continue between de Blasio and the City Council on a final appropriation number for the city’s summer youth jobs program.  

But a spokesperson for the mayor says the city’s youth unemployment crisis was already on de Blasio’s radar. Last month the mayor and first lady Chirlane McCray announced the creation of the Center for Youth Employment, to expand and better coordinate how the city engages young people looking for work and a career path. So far $3.2 million has been raised from the private sector for this initiative, which continues to attract new partners.

According to a press release issued for its launch, “the Center, a public-private initiative, will aim to substantially increase employer engagement and partnership opportunities with a goal of ultimately connecting 100,000 young New Yorkers ages 14 to 24 to summer jobs, mentorships, and internships each year by 2020—an increase of 75 percent over current capacity.”

What this will mean is universal access to summer jobs for kids in shelter or foster care by 2020, said Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office. “This summer the Department Youth and Community Development will also maintain extended hours at all 94 of the NYCHA Cornerstone programs it operates, at a cost of $9.1 million.”

“As you know, the entire country is confronting the challenge of youth employment and college and career readiness, and federal funds have diminished as costs increase,” Spitalnick wrote. “The de Blasio administration has made these sorts of programs a priority to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble—not just by doubling SYEP slots, but by massively expanding after school programs including by investing a new $163 million to expand after school programs to 107,000 middle schoolers.”



For anxious parents and youngsters worried about this summer, 2020 is a lifetime a way. Advocates say as well intentioned as these efforts are, their scale just doesn’t match the challenge at hand. 

The Community Service Society’s Lazar Treschan said the persistent youth unemployment and under-employment crisis is structural in nature and must be addressed. “Youth unemployment is at the highest rates it has been in decades and that’s because of the changing nature of the labor market,” Treschan said. “Older workers are staying in the economy longer and some people retire to lower skilled jobs that are a little bit easier for them but those are jobs that would have been taken by younger people. At the same time a lot of jobs that young people used to do don’t exist anymore."

“For full summer employment it would cost about $60 to $70 million dollars, which seems like a lot of money when you consider what we put in for each year of schooling it is like adding 10 percent to 15 percent more for what we spend on each kid,” Treschan said, adding that the extra investment in meaningful summer employment for every young New Yorker needs to be put in the context of the reality that the city already spends $20,000 per student from September to June and all too often drops the ball on its investment for the summer. 

“A lot of research has shown the real importance of extra-curricular work in summer,  of part time work, to keeping kids on track, on track in school, on track for college, and for careers,” Treschan said. 

The former DYCD staffer also points out that summer employment helps young people avoid what education experts call "the summer melt." “That’s when young people who are not engaged actively in summer see a real drop off in their academic ability from when they leave school in June to when they start in September," Treschan said. "So having them really engaged, where they are using their head, thinking and working is a really great experience.”

“In fact the city invested a couple of years ago in a rigorous evaluation of young people who go through the summer employment program and they found that when they go back to school in the fall they do much better by getting into college and finding employment in the longer term,” said Treschan. “They actually have much better outcomes than kids who applied to the program and don’t get in.”



The behind-the-scenes battle over the additional summer job slots comes as the city’s youngest job seekers, like their peers around the country, are finding it increasingly hard to land that critical first job. A May report by the Economic Policy Institute looked at the job prospects for the class of 2015’s high school and college graduates.   

EPI’s “The Class of 2015: Despite an Improving Economy, Young Grads Still Face and Uphill Climb” documents that between 2007, before the Great Recession hit, and 2014, college and high school graduates are still grappling with the impacts of the prolonged downturn. The report documented that for this age group the impacts of the Great Recession endure, especially for African-American and Hispanic young people.  

For college graduates in 2007 the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent but has spiked to 7.2 percent.  Meanwhile, the under-employed went from 7.2 percent in 2007 to just under 15 percent over the same period. 

For high school graduates the results were even more troubling. In 2007 almost 16 percent were unemployed, contrasted with one in five several years later. The under-employed cohort—part timers looking for full-time work—also spiked dramatically for high school graduates. In 2007 almost 27 percent of high school graduates were in that category. That number has shot up to 37 percent.

The EPI analysis found that close to one in four African-American high school graduates are not working and not enrolled in higher education. For Hispanics it is close to one in five. 

EPI says the bad news extends even to those graduates lucky enough to land a job after completing high school or college with current wages that “are performing poorly and are substantially lower today than in 2000.” EPI’s data indicates real wages adjusted for inflation have dropped over the last 15 years by 5.5 percent for high school graduates. For college graduates real wages declined by 2.5 percent over the same period. Of course, this slide in earning power comes as the same age group faces an unprecedented level of college debt. 

“If better than one third of recent high school graduates are in deep trouble in terms of their jobs and income we have a problem we don’t have a recovery,” said Richard Wolff, an economist and visiting professor at the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in International Affairs. “We don’t have a recovery when numbers like that describe the unemployment problems of our recent graduates both at the college and high school levels.” 

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Bob Hennelly
is a reporter for The Chief Leader.