Jason Fenster – 202.558.7974 x306 (o) / 202.656.5336 (m) / [email protected]
Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 (o) / 202.320.1029 (m) [email protected]

Youth Employment Investments will Pay Public Safety Dividends
Effective job assistance and training programs set youth on a positive path toward the future

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public safety in Washington, D.C. would be improved by smart investments in youth employment, according to a study released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). During the last ten years, youth unemployment in D.C. has ranged between 1.6 and 2.3 times the national average. As an increase in youth employment has been linked to decreased rates of arrest in the city, a robust and holistic employment program for youth is key to building positive life outcomes for the District’s youth and safer communities across the city. 

Working for a Better Future: How expanding employment opportunities for D.C.’s youth creates public safety benefits for all residents describes the positive role employment plays in reducing delinquency and increasing lifelong earnings for youth. Having a job has been shown to be a “protective factor” against crime and arrests for youth. In addition to helping young people gain experience in the work world, effective job assistance programs for teens provide mentoring, life skills training, and a feeling of connection to and responsibility for the community.

“When it comes to addressing the chronic and acute unemployment of District youth, it’s time to stop applying band-aids to what’s become a gaping wound,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI.  “City leadership needs to ensure there’s a continuum of services and supports in both the public and private sector to help launch kids on the road to good paying careers.”  Velázquez also emphasized these programs need to be available to all youth. “Early interventions work.  Empowering and engaging young peoplewho aren’t justice system involved improves the chances that they won’t get caught up in that system, with all its negative consequences.  And this makes us all safer and helps them become strong positive contributors to their community.”

Working for a Better Future notes that unemployment for youth can have detrimental effects for youth and communities. Youth who are disconnected or under-connected to institutions of education or employment represent an annual taxpayer cost of $13,900 and a social cost (which includes such expenses as healthcare, income assistance programs and criminal justice) of $37,450. Investments in job assistance programs, however, are a fraction of this expense, and help cut back the taxpayer and social costs while setting a young person up for a lifetime of success. The brief mentions examples from across the country of effective youth workforce development programs that have yielded positive results including public safety benefits, positive life outcomes for youth and cost savings, including programs like YouthBuild, YearUp, Strive and Job Corps being utilized in the District.

“A strategy to tackle youth unemployment would yield important results for D.C,” added Spike Bradford, senior research associate at JPI and author of Working for a Better Future. “It should function as an opportunity to create enriching experiences that spur interest in continuing education and quality employment paths.”

Working for a Better Future includes a number of recommendations for crafting an effective public safety strategy by supporting D.C.’s youth and ensuring that all youth have the opportunity for success:

  1. Invest more in quality employment programs for youth, including efforts that link youth with work that interests them, has potential for advancement and development and connects them to their community. While vocational and service jobs are a part of our economy, youth should not feel they are being pigeonholed into this type of employment. Programs that focus on work that is meaningful and local have shown the most success.
  2. Dedicate more resources to help youth in the wards with the most need to access the job market. Prevention efforts are most critical in the areas where race, poverty and joblessness collide, forming an onerous barrier to employment for young people.
  3. Use evidenced-based models that have been shown to positively impact youth. Evaluation research has identified specific programs and theoretical frameworks that have shown promising results. Typically, successful employment programs incorporate components of evidence-based delinquency prevention models, on which there is abundant literature.
  4. Ensure that employer partners accept youth who have successfully completed job preparedness programs regardless of justice system contact. More and more employers are adopting a Ban the Box approach to recruiting; that is, they do not ask about justice system involvement on job applications. Youth employment programs in D.C. should adopt similar measures, allowing those with justice system involvement the opportunity to benefit from the transformative power of meaningful work.
  5. Consider innovative incentives for increasing youth participation in programs. For example, programs that include reciprocal obligation, where youth are guaranteed a benefit such as a GED or adjudication expungement upon program completion could help increase youth involvement and youth outcomes.

To read Working for a Better Future, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Jason Fenster at (202) 558-7974 x306 or [email protected]. Working for a Better Future is the second in a series of research briefs that will be released by JPI in 2012 to show how the District could improve public safety and outcomes for youth through positive social investments. The first brief, The Education of D.C., which considers the intersection of education and public safety in the District, can be found here.

For more JPI reports on supporting D.C. youth and crafting smart justice policies, please visit our website at

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit