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Youth Summer Jobs Program Reduces Crime; Add to Daugaard’s Juvenile Justice Reform?

Governor Dennis Daugaard is proposing a juvenile corrections reform package that will impose net new costs on the state of about $2.9 million. The proposal doesn't seem like a bad idea.

But may I suggest a policy alternative... or better yet, if we don't want to play false dilemma, a policy complement? Let's do as Chicago did and give low-income kids summer jobs:

A couple of years ago, the city of Chicago started a summer jobs program for teenagers attending high schools in some of the city's high-crime, low-income neighborhoods. The program was meant, of course, to connect students to work. But officials also hoped that it might curb the kinds of problems — like higher crime — that arise when there's no work to be found.

Research on the program conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and just published in the journal Science suggests that these summer jobs have actually had such an effect: Students who were randomly assigned to participate in the program had 43 percent fewer violent-crime arrests over 16 months, compared to students in a control group.

That number is striking for a couple of reasons: It implies that a relatively short (and inexpensive) intervention like an eight-week summer jobs program can have a lasting effect on teenage behavior. And it lends empirical support to a popular refrain by advocates: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job" [Emily Badger, "Chicago Gave Hundreds of High-Risk Kids a Summer Job. Violent Crime Arrest Plummeted," Washington post: Wonkblog, 2014.12.08].

Hmmm... 25 hours a week for 8 weeks at minimum wage... $2.9 million would pay 1,700 kids for their work. That's nearly three times the number of juveniles currently in JDC's custody.

The evidence says that if you put kids to work, they commit fewer crimes. Legislators, are you willing to put some money where the research is? Are you willing to include a jobs program in the Governor's juvenile justice reform initiative?

Tangential Reading: In other policy amendments, perhaps the Governor could put young people to work building bicycles. A new study finds the cycling industry is creating more jobs in Europe than Ford, GM, and Chrysler are creating in America.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.12.15

    Reminds me of Bill Clinton's midnight basketball leagues, only better.

  2. Mark Vargo 2014.12.16

    I like the idea, but your assertion that "if you put kids to work, they commit fewer crimes" is suspect. Is there really data that supports the idea that giving a kid a job reduces his propensity to commit a crime or is it just that good kids tend both to have jobs and commit fewer crimes? Correlation/causation.

  3. Don Coyote 2014.12.16

    "...perhaps the Governor could put young people to work building bicycles."

    As in manufacturing bicycles? Reminds me of the joke in the industry as to how make a small fortune in the bicycle business. Start with a large one.

    Outside of Trek's miniscule domestic producation (probably no more than 14,000-20,000 units) and a handful of framesets built by a small frame builders, the US bicycle manufacturing industry is non-existent. Even the European bicycle industry is but a shadow of it's former self.

  4. leslie 2014.12.18

    mark-your "good kid" generalization scares me. every parent's child is a good kid, of course, but law enforcement that considers class distinctions such as this, "good people", and "good ole' boys" seems deeply flawed. I suspect there is data supporting the original assertion.

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