Giving youth from high-violence schools minimum-wage summer jobs reduced their acts of violence by nearly half, and the effects lasted over the long term, according to a randomized controlled study published in Science. Adding cognitive behavioral therapy to the program made the effects neither better nor worse.
The study by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Sara Heller followed 1,634 disadvantaged high school youth in Chicago, who were randomly assigned to a summer jobs program, summer jobs with an explicit cognitive-behavioral social-emotional learning component added, or being left to pursue summer jobs or activities on their own. Local community organizations assigned job mentors and helped place the youth in nonprofit and government jobs such as “summer camp counselors, workers in a community garden, or office assistants for an alderman.”
In the groups who received summer jobs, violence was reduced by 43% over 16 months — there were 3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth. And most of the reduction in violence occurred long after the employment was concluded.
“Violence reductions are large and statistically significant during the 13 months after the program is over, and the point estimate is 7 times larger at the end of the follow-up period than at the end of the summer,” wrote Heller.
The key difference between this study and other studies that have not seen similar results, wrote Heller, was that this jobs program targeted high-risk youth who were still in school, rather than after they’d already quit school. “The results suggest the promise of using low-cost, well-targeted programs to generate meaningful behavioral change, even with a problem as complex as youth violence,” concluded Heller. “The results echo a common conclusion in education and health research: that public programs might do more with less by shifting from remediation to prevention. The findings make clear that such programs need not be hugely costly to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth; well-targeted, low-cost employment policies can make a substantial difference, even for a problem as destructive and complex as youth violence.”
(Abstract) Summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth (Heller, Sara B. Science. December 5, 2014. DOI: 10.1126/science.1257809)