U-M Economics Assistant Professor Sara Heller and Jonathan M.V. David (University of Chicago) released a study, “Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs,” as part of the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper series. Below you will find the abstract and a press release from the University of Chicago Crime Lab about the paper.


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.

New Study Shows Chicago Jobs Program Reduces Youth Violence by 33 Percent

Matt Repka
University of Chicago Crime Lab
33 N LaSalle St, Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60602

Researchers at the University of Chicago Urban Labs recently announced new results from their study of One Summer Chicago Plus (OSC+), a jobs program designed to reduce violence and prepare youth living in some of the city’s highest-violence neighborhoods for the labor market.

The study was carried out over the summer of 2013 in partnership with the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). It found that the program, which provided a six-week, minimum-wage job for 25 hours a week, reduced the number of violent-crime arrests for participants by 33 percent over the subsequent year.

“Since the beginning of One Summer Chicago, we’ve been working to create a valuable opportunity for young people in the summertime.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “Through job placements, mentorship connections, and skill-building experiences, we have more youth than ever making the most of that opportunity and staying safe in the process.”

The study by Sara Heller at the University of Michigan and Jonathan Davis at the University of Chicago is a follow-up to 2012 research on OSC+ by Heller that saw a 42 percent drop in violent-crime arrests of participants. Unlike 2012, the 2013 program focused solely on young men and drew from criminal justice agencies in addition to the regular pool of One Summer Chicago applicants. The 2013 programming also included social-emotional learning training for all participants. Although the percentage reduction in violent-crime arrests in 2013 was smaller (42 percent in 2012 versus 33 percent in 2013), the average reduction in arrests was actually greater (4.2 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 participants in 2012 versus 7.9 fewer violent- crime arrests per 100 in 2013).

“This study reinforces what we already know about young people in Chicago: when you support them through challenges and barriers and help them to invest in themselves, good things will happen.” DFSS Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler said.

The OSC+ 2013 study (accompanied by a long-term follow-up of the 2012 program) closely examines the two to three years following the six-week program and finds that the reduction in violent-crime arrests is not driven simply by keeping participants off the streets during the summer. In fact, the decline in violence remains significant when the summer is ignored entirely. Researchers did find, however, that OSC+ had no significant impacts on schooling outcomes or engagement, nor did it have a positive impact on formal labor sector employment for all of the participants after the fact. The authors do note that it is possible that significant labor market effects will develop past the three-year window examined in the study.   

“While the group as a whole did not see significant gains in employment or school persistence, we did see positive gains among some subgroups of participants,” Heller said.

“Although everyone seems to benefit in terms of violence reduction, our study finds that younger, more school-engaged youth saw about a 40 percent increase in formal employment rates,” Davis added. “These results change how we think about what summer employment programs do, and for whom.”

Youth violence and unemployment remain major challenges in Chicago, especially for minority and low-income young men. These youth often face significant disadvantages in terms of criminal justice involvement and socioeconomic outcomes: 47 percent of black male residents between the ages of 20 and 24 are currently out of school and out of work while one in three black men will spend time in prison during their lifetimes, compared to just one in 17 white men. Conducted as the most rigorous type of study available to social science—a randomized controlled trial—the 2013 results suggest that despite the challenges that these young people face, OSC+ can have a positive impact on violence.

In February, Chicago Magazine cited Chicago’s commitment to innovative social policy and research as one of its reasons “Why We Love Chicago.” One Summer Chicago Plus is a prime example of how innovation and commitment to rigorous feedback have helped to advance promising policies. The program has expanded under the leadership of Mayor Emanuel and DFSS. Following the release of Heller’s study of the 2012 program, One Summer Chicago drew significant national attention and philanthropic dollars. In 2015, philanthropists Mark Walter and Earvin “Magic” Johnson donated $10 million over two years for the program and in May of this year, Barack and Michelle Obama pledged $1 million toward the program. Since its inception, the number of youth served by One Summer Chicago has more than doubled, with over 31,000 expected to participate in the program this summer.

“While there is no silver bullet solution to reducing youth violence, One Summer expands the portfolio of programs that can make a difference and underscores the importance of investing in youth from our city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” UChicago Crime Lab Executive Director Roseanna Ander said.