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Expanding SYEP and Year-Round Employment for New York City Youth

The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) is New York City at its finest. In the immediate years before COVID-19, SYEP provided high quality work experiences to 75,000 New York City youth, ages 14-24, each summer. SYEP runs for 6 weeks in July and August, with participants working up to 25 hours per week at $15/hour. With the help of community-based service providers, small businesses, teachers and school support, SYEP is the largest youth employment program in the country

SYEP is a great introduction for young people into the workplace, as well as a valuable source of supplemental income - 85% of participants live in households earning $31,000 or less. The program is an opportunity for youth to engage in their communities, find mentors, learn marketable skills and build professional experience during summer months. And, SYEP creates a natural moment for participants to start building financial literacy as well, with many receiving their first paychecks.

Studies show that SYEP has “large impacts on young people’s employment and earnings during the summer for which they applied, but it had little impact beyond that summer. Young people who won places in the program through the lottery were 54 percentage points more likely to be employed and earned $580 more during that summer, on average, than those who did not.”

In recent years, the program has scaled substantially, more than doubling from 36,000 participants in 2014. Last summer, however, much to the chagrin of New York families, teens, providers and elected officials, the program was cut as a pandemic budget measure and then reinstated in modified, virtual form with a 50% reduction in available slots. This was a hard, last-minute hit to communities already reeling from COVID-19, and especially at a time when young people were facing grave economic uncertainty.

The success of SYEP has been extended to the school year - the New York City Council has funded Work, Learn Grow, a $20 million program serving 5,000 New York City youth with year round employment opportunities in the public and private sectors. 

A Yang administration will be committed to not only returning SYEP to its previous scale, but going further by continuing to grow the program, and at a faster pace than the city did in the five years before COVID. From 2014 to 2019, SYEP grew from 36,000 participants to 75,000, which meant that there was space for about half of the more than 150,000 applicants, with a lottery for the available spots. A Yang administration will also ensure that these jobs continue through the year, quintupling the size of Work, Learn, Grow to serve 25,000 youth year-round. 

Andrew Yang’s Plan

Where participation was previously growing by about 8,000 per year, a Yang administration would more than triple that growth rate to 25,000 per year with deep partnerships with the nonprofit and private sectors, as well as with City government. With this investment, SYEP would have 175,000 participants per summer by the end of a four-year term, meaning there would be enough room to accommodate the previous peak in applicants and eliminating the lottery altogether.

Nonprofit organizations who work to administer SYEP know that we demand is high, and that meeting the needs of young people - with a four-year vision - is possible. However, the budget negotiation process that the Administration and City Council go through each year make it nearly impossible for providers to prepare for a growth in the program, while securing meaningful employment opportunities for young people. Youth employment advocates, after school providers, school leaders and SYEP host sites argue that with a clear plan for expansion, growing the program by 25,000 slots is not only possible, but it is necessary. 

A Yang administration will ensure that the City fosters deep relationships with employers, small businesses, the critical nonprofit and human services sector, and government to meet the needs of young people through the school year and the summer months. To that end, a Yang administration will scale SYEP and WLG at the following levels:

Provider Support and Predictability

A Yang Administration will ensure that the many service providers who make SYEP and WLG possible will know how much funding they will be receiving year-over-year and how many slots they can plan for, well before program execution. Andrew Yang will also leverage local small businesses by conducting robust year-round outreach efforts to bring these employers into the program. 

A Yang administration will also work with larger partners, especially companies who are investing in the future of New York, such as clean energy and technology companies, to make sure our youth get opportunities to learn skills that will support their educational and career development while contributing positively to a vision for a forward-thinking New York.

Simple Re-Enrollment

A Yang administration will ensure that young people do not need to complete a cumbersome enrollment process year after year to participate in SYEP. DYCD will retain enrollment information and simply ask them if they would like to participate in the program again the following summer at the time of SYEP recruitment. In doing so, the City will simplify the re-enrollment process, reducing the bar to entry for young people and their families. 

Program Size and Cost

Given in 2019, SYEP cost $164 million total, with $134 million coming from the city, Yang predicts brought to scale, this program would cost a total of $380 million by the end of year 4, with a commitment of $300 million from the city.

A Yang administration will partner with WLG employment sites to subsidize the growth of year-round youth employment, leaning on private sector and philanthropic partners to subsidize the program at full capacity by 50%. To that end, WLG at 25,000 slots will cost the city an additional $30 million. 

Expanding Year-Round Employment Opportunities for Youth

Since FY16, the New York City Council has invested in year-round employment opportunities for young people age 16-19, Work, Learn Grow. At the cost of $20 million/year, 5,000 young people are served with a 25-week employment and professional development program. A Yang administration will also ensure that these jobs continue through the year, quintupling the size of Work, Learn, Grow to serve 25,000 youth year-round. 

A Year-Round Approach

While SYEP is a summer program, success for youth and employers requires a year-round approach. Employers need visibility as early as possible on how many participants they’ll have funding for as they engage in their own internal interdepartmental planning. Youth need to know that there’s room for them in opportunities that line up well with their interests and development goals. While SYEP is consistently oversubscribed, the program faces another issue of youth declining their slots because it takes so long for them to get accepted that, by the time they are, they’ve made other plans for their summers. This creates a lot of anxiety on all sides - employers who have worked hard against what’s historically been unpredictable funding feel frustrated; youth are stressed by the last-minute scramble; and families that could benefit from the additional income through SYEP face financial uncertainty. Andrew will instruct DCYD and the DOE to engage providers on a year-long basis, inserting predictability and collaboration in the process to ensure the opportunities are maximized for providers, employers, and students. Yang will also instruct the DOE to engage students on a continuum to facilitate support for students throughout the school year. For example, when students return to their classrooms in the fall, teachers can build in reflections on their summer job opportunities and amplify opportunities for growth in the classroom using what students experienced over the summer. And likewise, in the lead up to the summer, students will work on resume building, interview skills and professional development.

Provide Quality Experiences for Students of All Backgrounds and Interests

New York City’s youth population is diverse on every possible dimension. We have English language learners; we have youth with physical and learning disabilities; we have youth who live in our homeless shelters; we have youth at-risk of dropping out of school and falling into the criminal justice system; and more. And, the city is just as diverse in its employer base. A year-round program also means greater time and opportunity to properly match students with employers in situations that will best position them for success. We must do so in an inclusive and supportive manner by conducting outreach to all students, no matter their life or academic circumstances.

And, we have a local economy (and national and global one) with evolving needs from its workforce. The city needs to work to continue to expand the SYEP employer base appropriately. Many tech companies of all sizes have workforces pushing their employers for more social engagement, which programs like SYEP can more than satisfy. And, yet, these organizations are underrepresented among SYEP employer participants. As SYEP has in the past to continue to match its employers against the always changing economy, proactive outreach is needed to bring more tech employers into partnership and help interested youth develop the skills of the future. Andrew Yang is ideally positioned to make these connections and leverage private sector employers of all kinds, especially tech companies.

Accountability: Measuring Success

While New York’s SYEP is the largest, other cities around the nation have similar programs. Research on similar youth employment programs, including New York City’s, have shown that they are very effective in their primary objective of increasing youth employment and income. In this regard, the fact that many youth employment programs have operated as lottery programs is an interesting natural experiment; applicants who make it through the lottery have meaningfully greater rates of summer employment and meaningfully more summer income than those who don’t. Summer youth employment programs have also been consistently tied to lower youth crime - 30-40% lower youth crime rates in the 16 months after program participation from research in Boston and Chicago. Unfortunately, have not yet been connected to better long-term employment outcomes. Researchers have speculated that this may be in part because of the budgetary uncertainty under which these programs operate, and the scramble that creates - tossing up obstacles for youth trying to find experiences relevant to their interests and employers working to create quality opportunities. In addition, the uncertainty of the lottery means a person participating in the lottery in multiple years is likely to end up with resume gaps in their summer experiences. A year-round approach to SYEP will help on these fronts by inserting structure and predictability, and therefore justify a Yang administration’s focus on also expanding Work, Learn, Grow.

A Yang administration would also instruct DCYC to collect more granular data, analytics and qualitative information looking at these questions by employer and employer type to see if particular experiences are setting up participants for longer-term success to identify best practices that can be scaled across all SYEP employers. Also of interest might be pilots giving some randomly selected participants a summer cash stipend for independent pursuits, possibly scaled up to reflect the administrative costs of SYEP, to see what impact that alternative program design has on participant satisfaction and outcomes.


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