Low-income youth and their families in New York City will lose out on more than $109 million in wages because of the city’s controversial decision to cancel a program that connects young city dwellers to summer jobs, a recent study found.
The Independent Budget Office’s study showed that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to cancel the Summer Youth Employment Program in the wake of COVID-19 will cause 70,000 young people to miss out on between $700 and $1,600 in wages each — potentially stripping families of a needed income boost as unemployment rates skyrocket due to coronavirus-related shutdowns.
De Blasio, who canceled the program to save $119 million as the city faces a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, has faced backlash from teens and advocates who say the program provides young people between the ages of 14 and 24 with valuable job experience.
Last year, the Summer Youth Employment Program connected 74,500 young people — less than half of the total applicants — with jobs in business, non-profit, government, and other sectors. Eight-five percent of participants came from families that make $31,000 a year or less, and many lived in affordable housing, the IBO study found.
One Bronx student, who has participated in the program for three years while his family has resided in a homeless shelter, said that he relies on the money he earns to buy himself new clothes every year.
“It was very helpful to me specifically because I was in a shelter and my parents didn’t have that much money,” said Rahkim Powers, a 17-year-old high school senior. “They had to work and save up so we can leave the shelter.”
Powers said he’s concerned that he won’t find a job this summer amid the coronavirus closure and soaring unemployment.
“I’m very worried,” he said. “I was dependent on that to pay for my clothes for school and to save up money.”
Citywide, 14-percent of the program’s youth lived in public housing in 2018, and their summer earnings accounted for about 6 percent of their families’ household income, the study shows.
Last week, de Blasio said his administration is working with the City Council to “revitalize” the program, which would be part of the city’s ongoing budget process that will be finalized by the end of June.
“The City Council has raised important ideas, proposals, ways of addressing how we revitalize the Summer Youth Employment Program in the context of this pandemic,” he said at a June 11 press conference. “That is an ongoing conversation with the City Council. That will be part of our budget decision making with the City Council over the next two weeks or so.”
The three programs, orchestrated by the NYC Young Men’s Initiative and the Department of Probation Neighborhood Opportunity Network, are slated to connect nearly 3,000 people with paid opportunities, with the potential to earn up for $1,200, Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Phil Thompson announced.
“One of the most important initiatives we’re going to talk about in the coming days, that’s the Summer Youth Employment Program. This is a particularly important initiative to people all over the city,” de Blasio said at a press conference last week, adding that the City Council is still deciding the fate of the program. “That is an ongoing conversation with the City Council. That will be part of our budget decision making with the City Council over the next two weeks or so.”