Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
Brianna Cook, 14 and a resident of Hamilton Heights, is trying to use her summer days to plow through Jane Eyre and Angela's Ashes — two books the rising 10th grader needs to complete by the start of the school year. But, if she had her way, she would be getting work experience at a day camp on the Upper West Side.
"They go on a trip everyday, so I thought it would be fun — instead of staying in the house or staying in the camp — they go out and see different things," she said. "I was really looking forward to having a job."
Cook applied to work at the camp through the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, run by the Department of Youth and Community Development, but didn’t get selected. Kids are chosen by lottery, with the exception of a certain number of slots set aside for vulnerable youth, such as young people in foster care or who are homeless, for minimum wage jobs.
For many of the city’s younger teens, like Cook, it’s also more than likely to be a first job, according to a concept paper put out in June by the Department of Youth and Community Development.
But getting that first job has been tough for the city’s youth and it might get tougher. The program has suffered from budget cuts, and this year is serving about 30,000 young people out of more than 130,000 applicants. It's the lowest number of job placements in more than five years, and the city is already preparing for a more scaled-back version of the program next year.
In 2013, the department projects that the program will serve about 23,000 students. City officials say the numbers are preliminary and subject to change, based on funding commitments from the state and private fundraising. Next year's proposal would cut the program to six weeks, from the current seven, and reduce the number of paid hours per week from 25 to 20.
It follows a larger trend. The nation's summer teen employment rate has seen declines over the past decade. According to the city's Department of Youth and Community Development, the rate was 45 percent in 2000. That number dropped to an average rate of 25.4 percent for June-July 2011 — the lowest since the start of record-keeping in 1948.
It may be more difficult for young teens to find a job elsewhere if they do not get into the employment program, said Kevin Douglas, a policy analyst with the non-profit group United Neighborhood Houses.
In this economy, younger teens are competing with older teenagers and college students for some of the same types of jobs, he said. And younger students have yet to develop job skills or even “soft skills,” things like workplace etiquette and navigating a supervisor-supervisee relationship.
"You obviously want to be positive and tell kids, you know, keep your head up, look for other opportunities, volunteer, try to spend your time positively, try to find things to do in your community," he said. "But at the same time, we know that those options are limited to them."
Correction: An earlier version of the story said in 2013, the program would be cut from 7 weeks to 4 weeks. The program will be cut from 7 weeks to 6 weeks in 2013.