Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs

46 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017 Last revised: 21 Jan 2022

See all articles by Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy; University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Sara Heller

University of Chicago; University of Pennsylvania - Jerry Lee Center of Criminology

Date Written: May 2017

Abstract

This paper reports the results of two randomized field experiments, each offering different populations of youth a supported summer job in Chicago. In both experiments, the program dramatically reduces violent-crime arrests, even after the summer. It does so without improving employment, schooling, or other types of crime; if anything, property crime increases over 2-3 post-program years. To explore mechanisms, we implement a machine learning method that predicts treatment heterogeneity using observables. The method identifies a subgroup of youth with positive employment impacts, whose characteristics differ from the disconnected youth served in most employment programs. We find that employment benefiters commit more property crime than their control counterparts, and non-benefiters also show a decline in violent crime. These results do not seem consistent with typical theory about improved human capital and better labor market opportunities creating a higher opportunity cost of crime, or even with the idea that these programs just keep youth busy. We discuss several alternative mechanisms, concluding that brief youth employment programs can generate substantively important behavioral change, but for different outcomes, different youth, and different reasons than those most often considered in the literature.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Jonathan and Heller, Sara, Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs (May 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23443, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2976183

Jonathan Davis (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 E 60th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 E 60th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Sara Heller

University of Chicago ( email )

No Address Available

University of Pennsylvania - Jerry Lee Center of Criminology ( email )

483 McNeil Building
3718 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6286
United States

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