In cities and counties across the country, summer youth employment programs (SYEPs) stand out as some of the largest and most high-profile youth workforce development initiatives around. At least, they did before COVID-19. Like so many other aspects of life, SYEPs were thrown into disarray last year by the social distancing measures that began in March 2020. SYEPs typically place youth ages 14 to 24 in community-based or private sector jobs for 20-25 hours per week for about six weeks in the summer months. But the onset of stay-at-home orders last spring and drastically reduced business activity made a normal SYEP impossible.

As we approach our second summer shaped by the pandemic, we should take the Biden administration’s “build back better” as inspiration and think more broadly about SYEPs as youth development opportunities and critical touchpoints in the lives of young people. This is especially crucial after a year of remote schooling and isolation and when education and labor markets have been so disrupted. As of April, unemployment rates were higher and rising among Black (18.9 percent) and Latino or Hispanic (17.0) teens compared to their white (11.1 percent) peers.

Boston, like other cities, faced unprecedented uncertainty last spring just when it would normally be deep in the SYEP planning process and about to ramp up operations. Some cities chose to cancel their SYEPs, while others rapidly adapted their format and/or reduced their enrollment goals. Common adaptations included virtual internships, engaging youth as crisis responders, and relying heavily on online platforms to build a sense of community as well as provide education and training.

Read the full article about summer youth employment programs by Martha Ross, Alicia Sasser Modestino, Sarah Soroui, and Rashad Cope at Brookings.