Historically high unemployment rates triggered by the coronavirus pandemic are taking a toll on summer jobs for teens and young Marylanders.
Maryland’s local governments and their partner organizations are adjusting internship and summer youth employment programs to hire as many people as possible, but some young adults are still left scrambling to find alternatives to the jobs they lost.
Howard County resident Katie Meenan planned to work 40 hours weekly as a head swim coach for a youth summer swim league sponsored by a neighborhood recreational organization. The association closed its pools and gyms several months ago and notified her that she had no summer job, said Meenan, who just finished her freshman year of college.
Meenan considered working everywhere – from Grubhub to AmeriCorps. She eventually found work as a nanny — for three days a week.
“While that is definitely bringing in money I would not be making otherwise, it is not close to what I would be making lifeguarding and coaching, and I am definitely going to see those effects, just in my personal savings,” Meenan said. “I think I should be OK for the upcoming semester, between what I have saved and the contributions my parents make to my education, which I am super grateful for and super privileged to have.”
Meenan also said that many of her friends have had their summer jobs canceled, included the scores of lifeguards, swim coaches and facility operators who usually work alongside her.
Young people like Meenan are more likely to be employed as part-time or seasonal workers in jobs ranging from camp counselor to lifeguard to ice cream scooper. They are also more likely to work as interns, a position that many organizations quickly terminated as they looked to save money in the COVID-19 era. More than a quarter of workers ages 16 to 24 were probably without work in May, according to the Pew Research Center. This was double the average national unemployment rate.
Although the Howard County Office of Workforce Development’s Summer Youth Employment Program will still run this summer, Meenan would not have been able to apply. To participate in the county’s SYEP, you must be a county resident between the ages of 14 to 21 belonging to one or more of the following categories: low-income, homeless or runaway, pregnant or parenting, foster child, high school dropout, deficient in basic literacy skills, disabled or an offender.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said this year the program is more than doubling the number of participants to about 50. Youth employment has always been one of his priorities, said Ball, and expanding the program during times of financial hardship is a reflection of the county’s commitment to careers and college readiness.
The county’s summer youth jobs program will be run virtually this year, said Francine Trout, an employee in the county’s Office of Workforce Development who runs the program. Participants will be paid 15 hours weekly while working for Howard County government offices. In years past, they worked slightly over 20 hours weekly. Participants will also perform additional projects, said Trout, such as writing personal resumés, performing interpersonal interviews with people they know and working on written and oral communication skills.
“When these young people go to look for their next job, and they can show that they worked for Howard County government, I think that means something to the local businesses when they see that on an application,” Trout said.
Baltimore County will also continue its summer youth jobs program, but this will be done in a hybrid format, County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced earlier this month. The number of participants is on track to grow by over 50 percent compared to last year.
Participants will be divided into two groups: those completing primarily virtual work and those working on-site in one of 12 Baltimore County departments. On-site workers will make $11 hourly working 25 hours weekly. Virtual workers will receive stipends for successful completion of online modules.
Several jurisdictions have reduced the number of participants in their summer youth job programs, including Baltimore city. YouthWorks, the city’s program, typically employs over 8,000 young people, according to Jason Perkins-Cohen, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. This year, YouthWorks will employ about 4,500 between the ages of 14 and 21.
Some cities have completely scrapped their SYEPs, including New York City, which usually runs the nation’s largest program, Perkins-Cohen noted. Meanwhile, Baltimore is still maintaining YouthWorks, which is typically one of the nation’s largest summer youth jobs programs overall and the second-largest per capita.
“When we’re talking about, ‘Well you would (have) 8,000, and now you’re at 4,500, I mean that is certainly true,” Perkins-Cohen said. “And again, I would note that other cities it’s zero, but you have to recognize the time. I mean we’re in a pandemic, we have arguably the greatest employment crisis of our time, I’m not even sure it’s really arguable. And so, we view it as we’re creating 4,500 jobs in a pandemic. We wish we could create more jobs but it’s a massive infusion.”
In recent years, young people employed by YouthWorks have put in about 25 hours weekly at jobs ranging from working at a legal firm to cleaning trails scooping ice cream. Everyone makes at least minimum wage, and, on rare occasions, some participants make a little more.
YouthWorks places young people in jobs by utilizing partnerships with local nonprofit, government and for-profit organizations.
YouthWorks will spend about $8 million this year to employ about 4,500 youth. Although the program prioritizes young people who are in foster care or live in households that rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Cash Assistance, it typically hires many young people who do not fit into these categories.
Bank of America is one of the local partners who fund YouthWorks positions, said Janet Currie, senior vice president and Greater Maryland market manager at Bank of America. The organization gave $100,000 to fund paychecks for youths employed by its nonprofit partners and other local agencies through the program. YouthWorks participants typically do not work directly with Bank of America.
Currie said Bank of America also decided to maintain over 3,000 internal paid internships and its Student Leaders Program, which allows civically-minded high schoolers to work for a nonprofit, receive leadership training and attend a week-long summit with 300 other student leaders from all over the country. The summit will be virtual this year.
“We made the decision to keep our internship program because we know that employment is critical for our young people, so they have to continue to gain skills to help them with their future,” Currie said. “Some of them actually need paychecks to help either participate in their family income or to pay for school, so we know that this is a critical part of a young person’s life and part of our overall economy.”