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Summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth (Heller 2014)

Citation

Heller, S. (2014). Summer jobs reduce violence among disadvantaged youth. Science, 346(6214), 1219-1223.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of One Summer Plus, a summer jobs program for high school-age students, on educational and criminal justice outcomes.
  • Students from 13 high schools were recruited to the program and randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. Students in the jobs-only treatment group were offered 25 hours per week of paid employment; students in the jobs + SEL treatment group were offered 15 hours of paid employment and 10 hours of social-emotional learning (SEL) weekly. Students in the control group were excluded from the program but free to pursue other opportunities.
  • The study found that students in the One Summer Plus program had significantly fewer arrests for violent crimes in the 16 months following random assignment, compared with students in the control group (5 arrests per 100 youth compared with 9 arrests per 100 youth, equivalent to a 43 percent reduction). There were no statistically significant impacts of the program on the other criminal justice or educational outcomes examined.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-conducted randomized controlled trial.

Intervention Examined

One Summer Plus

Features of the Intervention

One Summer Plus provided eight weeks of summer employment to students in Chicago. Chapin Hall, a research center at the University of Chicago, used administrative data to identify the 5,000 youth in Chicago with the highest risk of violence. The city of Chicago identified 13 high schools in which many of these youth were enrolled. To be eligible for the One Summer Plus program, youth at these 13 schools (or those planning to enroll in 9th grade at the schools the following fall) had to be 14 to 21 years old.

Youth in One Summer Plus were placed in jobs earning the minimum wage ($8.25 per hour) at nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including summer camps, community gardens, YMCAs, aldermen’s offices, and so on. For the jobs-only group, the jobs were 5 hours a day for five days a week (a total of 25 hours of work per week). Members of the jobs + SEL group were paid for attending 2 hours of SEL services and working 3 hours each day (also a total of 25 hours of programming per week). SEL services, based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles, focused on behavior, emotional health, managing conflict in the workplace, and setting goals. In addition, the program assigned youth job mentors to teach them how to be successful employees and how to overcome potential barriers to employment. One Summer Plus youth received one meal a day and a bus reimbursement, if necessary.

Features of the Study

The author recruited youth in the targeted high schools for the study and randomly assigned 1,634 students to one of three conditions: the jobs-only treatment group (350 students), the jobs + SEL treatment group (350 students), or the control group (934 students), blocking for gender and school. The author randomly ordered students in the control group to form a waiting list for services. When 30 students in the treatment groups indicated they would not participate in the program, 30 students on the waiting list were offered admission to the program. The author analyzed the 30 students who left and the 30 new students as part of the treatment group.

On average, the students participating in the study were 16.8 years old, predominantly African American, and 92 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Before the program, 19 percent of the control and 22 percent of the treatment groups had been arrested.

The author analyzed impacts during and after the program on academic outcomes from Chicago Public Schools administrative data and on criminal justice outcomes from the Chicago Police Department’s arrest records. The primary outcomes of interest were four arrest-related outcomes (violent crime, property crime, drug crime, and other crime arrests); number of violent victimizations; and schooling outcomes (any attendance, number of days present, and grade point average in the following school year).

Findings

The study presented findings based on a comparison of the combined treatment groups with the control group:

    • The combined treatment groups had significantly fewer violent crime arrests in the 16 months following random assignment, compared with students in the control group: 5 arrests per 100 youth compared with 9 arrests per 100 youth, a 43 percent reduction.
    • There were no statistically significant differences between the combined treatment groups and the control group in arrests for property, drug, or other crimes in the 16 months following random assignment.
    • There were no statistically significant differences between the treatment groups and the control group on the number of days present and grade point average in the 2012–2013 school year (the school year following program intervention in summer 2012).

When looking at each treatment group separately compared with the control group, the study found the groups were equally effective at reducing violent crime arrests.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Because the random assignment design included the random ordering of control group members on a waiting list as a feature of the randomization, moving the 30 students from the waiting list to the treatment group did not compromise the random assignment design. Therefore, the study receives a high causal evidence rating. The author reported that program participation was high, with about three-quarters of those offered the opportunity to participate in One Summer Plus actually participating. Of those who started, almost all were assigned a job placement, and some 90 percent completed seven weeks of programming.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-conducted randomized controlled trial.

Reviewed by CLEAR

September 2015