For six of the past seven summers, Alexandra Odom, a 20-year-old African American college senior from Baltimore, has been employed by the city’s YouthWorks program. She has cleaned up parks, worked in the mayor’s office, and helped build a website at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. This summer she is working at a landscape architecture and urban planning firm, helping a local school to build an outdoor classroom.
The jobs have put money in her pocket, taught her valuable skills, and burnished her résumé and confidence. “My experiences have opened my eyes to different things I can do and given me a sense of security going into the workforce,” she said.
Summertime youth employment, a critical entry point to the work world, has declined 40 percent in the past 12 years, and the hardest hit are youth of color and low-income youth, according to a recent report by JP Morgan Chase & Co. In 2013, a white male teen from an affluent family was five times more likely to have a job than a black male peer from a low-income family. Teens from families in poverty were nearly 20 percentage points less likely to be employed than teens with a family income of $60,000 or more.