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Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs

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  • Jonathan M.V. Davis
  • Sara B. Heller

Abstract

This paper reports the results of two randomized field experiments, each offering different populations of youth a supported summer job in Chicago. In both experiments, the program dramatically reduces violent-crime arrests, even after the summer. It does so without improving employment, schooling, or other types of crime; if anything, property crime increases over 2-3 post-program years. To explore mechanisms, we implement a machine learning method that predicts treatment heterogeneity using observables. The method identifies a subgroup of youth with positive employment impacts, whose characteristics differ from the disconnected youth served in most employment programs. We find that employment benefiters commit more property crime than their control counterparts, and non-benefiters also show a decline in violent crime. These results do not seem consistent with typical theory about improved human capital and better labor market opportunities creating a higher opportunity cost of crime, or even with the idea that these programs just keep youth busy. We discuss several alternative mechanisms, concluding that brief youth employment programs can generate substantively important behavioral change, but for different outcomes, different youth, and different reasons than those most often considered in the literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan M.V. Davis & Sara B. Heller, 2017. "Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs," NBER Working Papers 23443, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23443
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Victor Chernozhukov & Mert Demirer & Esther Duflo & Ivan Fernandez-Val, 2017. "Generic Machine Learning Inference on Heterogenous Treatment Effects in Randomized Experiments," Papers 1712.04802, arXiv.org, revised Feb 2018.
    2. O'Neill, E. & Weeks, M., 2018. "Causal Tree Estimation of Heterogeneous Household Response to Time-Of-Use Electricity Pricing Schemes," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1865, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    3. Eoghan O'Neill & Melvyn Weeks, 2018. "Causal Tree Estimation of Heterogeneous Household Response to Time-Of-Use Electricity Pricing Schemes," Papers 1810.09179, arXiv.org.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C53 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Forecasting and Prediction Models; Simulation Methods
    • C54 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Quantitative Policy Modeling
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J48 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Particular Labor Markets; Public Policy
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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