The Recovery Act included about $1.2 billion to fund jobs for disadvantaged young people, with a healthy portion going to the 2009 Summer Employment Program. The numbers are impressive. About 250,000 youths received job assistance through the pre-existing Workforce Investment Act in 2008. In 2009, with the stimulus dollars, that number grew to 355,000, of which about 88 percent participated during the summer.
A new evaluation of the summer job program by Mathematica Policy Research paints a generally positive picture of the program and includes a number of lessons learned. Under a contract with the Department of Labor, Mathematica interviewed young people, program staff and employers and sought information about a variety of topics including the two performance measures required by the Recovery Act and the Department of Labor: an assessment of whether young people achieved a “work readiness skill goal” at the end of their experience and data on whether they completed their summer employment. Results for both measures are provided for the fifty states in two appendices at the end of the 148-page report.
The stimulus-dollar-funded Summer Youth Initiative operated by the Wise Workforce Center in Virginia
Some of the most interesting information can be found in the variation of completion rates among the states. While 82 percent of young people completed their summer employment nationally, 11 states had completion rates higher than 90 percent: Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. At the low end, seven states had completion rates of less than 70 percent: Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and Utah. As far as we can see, this data, alone, is fodder for some really interesting explorations as to why young people in some states seemed to stick with their jobs better than others.
The information on work readiness, unfortunately, must be regarded with some caution because a lot of freedom was given to entities in determining how to make this assessment. In fact, one of the recommendations from Mathematica was that the Employment and Training Administration should provide more guidance on how to measure this in a way that ensures “the use of a valid measure across all local areas.” We’re grateful to Mathematica for pointing this out. It’s long been a frustration of ours to see how much national data is skewed by the fact that it is self-reported, without consistency or sufficient guidance.
Still, even though the comparative state information needs to be viewed with caution, the results bear consideration:
Nationally, 75 percent of the young people who participated in the program over the summer attained a work readiness skill goal, but the variation among states was also great here. Six states reported that this goal was accomplished by more than 90 percent of participants: Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Twelve states reported results under 70 percent: Delaware, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, New jersey (with a startling 21 percent), North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon , Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.
For what it’s worth, we note that only two states made it to the very top tier of both lists: Georgia and Maryland.