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Will Lawmakers Approve Funds for Summer Youth Jobs?
YCteen Staff

Reporting by Lucas Gomes and Paige Hodge

Last year, 15-year-old Lucas Gomes was so sure he was going to get a job through New York City's Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) that he canceled a planned trip to Brazil, where most of his relatives live. It was a bad move; he didn't get a job.

"Getting denied was so disappointing," says Lucas. Instead of working in a resume-building, paid summer job, he spent his days taking afternoon naps, watching Netflix marathons, and eating junk food. Without the money he planned to earn, he couldn’t do much. “I felt like my house was a prison,” he says.

SYEP is a government program that provides paid summer jobs to youth between the ages of 14 and 24. And these aren't burger-flipping jobs. They are positions in summer camps, government agencies, hospitals, law firms, museums, non-profit organizations, and other places where they learn much more than simply how to use a cash register. Many teens don’t have the luxury of working in unpaid internships to gain career skills. SYEP gives youth the opportunity to develop meaningful work experience while still earning money. Unfortunately, of 135,000 young people who applied last year, only 36,000 got jobs.

That means about 100,000 disappointed youth like Lucas wasted their summer break. "I could have gained valuable experience and gotten a paycheck," says Lucas. "Now that I know the odds are so low that I'll get in, I'm not even encouraged to try again."

The problem? Money, of course. SYEP, which is financed by federal, state, city and private monies, never gets enough funding to provide jobs to everyone who applies. Usually, the program gets about 100,000 more applicants than jobs. But this year threatens to be even worse because--in a good news/bad news scenario--the state minimum wage was raised from $7.25 to $8 per hour. That means SYEP's budget of $45.6 million will be doled out in bigger paychecks, but to fewer people. For teens like Lucas, that would make the chances of getting a SYEP job even lower.

"Even though an increase in the minimum wage is a good thing for hard working families, it also means now we need even more money to keep the same amount of jobs," says Kevin Douglas, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses and co-chair of the Campaign for Summer Jobs. "If we don’t get additional funding, there will be about 2,750 fewer jobs for teens."

image by TaxCredits.net

On January 28, Douglas and other advocates went to Albany with 250 teens to try to convince state legislators to approve a $35 million budget for SYEP, which would enable the program to employ the same number of youth as it did last year. The teens told legislators how having SYEP jobs in years past had helped them earn money for things like college applications and got them the work experience they needed to be hired elsewhere.

What’s more, a study conducted by the Institute for Education and Social Policy found SYEP participation positively impacts school attendance and test taking, and performance the following year. For example, SYEP participants are more likely to take and pass their English and math Regents exams than similar students who didn’t work in SYEP jobs. That translates to about 100 additional students passing each of those exams each year.

State legislators vote on a budget by April 1--including whether to increase SYEP's funding to $35 million. An increased budget would mean more teens would get the valuable work experience they need. Sixteen year-old Marquisele Mercedes, who hopes to become a trauma surgeon, is going to apply again for an SYEP job despite her past disappointment.

“Last year, I signed up for SYEP hoping to get a chance to work at my local hospital and gain more insight on what it meant to be in this kind of environment,” she says. “I didn’t get accepted, so I ended up volunteering at my local New York Public Library. While I did catch up on a lot of reading that summer and had some fun with the other volunteers, I really would’ve rather been dressed in scrubs, working for a paycheck and learning more about how a hospital, and a job, works.”

How to Apply

For more information about the Summer Youth Employment Program, go to nyc.gov/html/dycd/html/jobs/syep.shtml

You apply for jobs through community-based organizations in your borough (you can find one near you on the website). You must be between the ages of 14 and 24 and you must have permission to work in New York (that means working papers if you’re under 18 years old). You don’t have to have previous work experience or any other qualifications-applicants are chosen through a lottery.

You may be eligible for SYEP’s Vulnerable Youth program, which increases your chances of getting a job, if you’re in foster care (or ever have been), are homeless or a runaway, or have been involved in the courts. Check with the Administration for Children's Services or any other agencies you’re in contact with to find out if you’re eligible and to ask them to recommend you for the program.

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