More jobs for teens = less violence?

By Joe Lambe

Kansas City Mayor Sly James has called for more summer jobs for disadvantaged youth, and a new study out of Chicago supports him.

The study published this month in the journal Science found that summer jobs reduced their violent crime arrests by 43 percent over a 16-month period.

The study indicates such prevention efforts could reduce violence nationwide that kills 150 people a day and injures more than 6,000.

From the study abstract:

“In a randomized controlled trial among 1634 disadvantaged high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43% over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends. The results suggest the promise of using low-cost, well targeted programs to generate meaningful behavioral change, even with a problem as complex as youth violence.”

The study was by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania, and study author was Sara Heller, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Almost all the students were black, poor and came from high unemployment neighborhoods. At random, 350 were given 25-hour a week minimum-wage summer jobs and another 350 were given 15-hour-a-week jobs combined with 10 hours of social and emotional learning classes.

The jobs lasted eight weeks. There was little difference in outcome among the two job groups compared to a jobless control group.

The largest decreases in rates of violent crime came months after the jobs program ended, indicating behavior change.

Past social science studies have linked joblessness, disadvantaged youth and violent crime, the study states, but found programs to reduce youth unemployment do not consistently reduce delinquency.

Heller noted that previous studies involved employment programs for young adults who had dropped out of school, and targeting high school students might be more effective.

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