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Summer jobs add up to less violence in study

Work changes city youth, research suggests

A new study that indicates low-income teenagers in Boston who hold summer jobs are less likely to engage in violence was hailed by the mayor and other community leaders as proof that youth employment programs can change people’s lives.

For the study, researchers at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies polled 421 teenagers and young adults who found employment last summer through a youth violence prevention collaborative overseen by the State Street Foundation, the charitable arm of the Boston financial services company.

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In confidential questionnaires, 3 percent of youths reported threatening or attacking someone with a gun during the month before starting their jobs, said Andrew Sum, a Northeastern professor and director of the market studies center.

When the job program ended, less than 1 percent said they had done so in the previous month, Sum said.

He said 15 percent said they had fought with someone during the month before the start of the program, but when it ended, just under 8 percent reported they had been in a fight in the past 30 days.

Sum called that reduction “very significant” and said the study — which also showed that summer employment helped teenagers find jobs in the fall and reduce risky behavior such as drug and alcohol use, among many other findings — demonstrates the importance of job opportunities for low-income teenagers in the city.

“Disadvantaged kids benefit the most from job creation programs,” he said.

Sum and several nonprofit leaders will join Mayor Thomas M. Menino Tuesday at the Holland Community Center in Dorchester to discuss the study and join the mayor as he kicks off his annual summer employment program, which this year will place more than 10,000 young people in jobs, according to his spokeswoman.

Menino said on Monday that the study reinforces the notion that “summer jobs help us reduce violence in the city.” “It gives the kids hope, gives them an opportunity they never had,” Menino said in a phone interview, adding that officials are working to increase youth employment through the year.

Rufus J. Faulk — a program director at the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a group of clergy and lay leaders that works with at-risk youths — applauded the study and stressed that year-round work for young people, as well as internships and after-school programs, are essential.

He said such programs have to be “a 365-day priority,” adding that the at-risk youths should be targeted in addition to standout students.

Neil Sullivan — executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which works with Boston public schools and others to help city youths find private sector jobs — described the Northeastern study as “ground-breaking.”

“What professor Sum’s study documents is that the work experience . . . actually changes those behaviors” that lead to violence, Sullivan said.

Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, also praised the study.

“This important research settles questions about whether we should address high youth unemployment in our highest crime areas,” Folgert wrote in an e-mail. “The good news is that Boston [and] Massachusetts already [have] good public and private sector workforce development programs. Now we need to ramp them up to meet the scale of the problem.”

Separately Monday, Action for Boston Community Development, a nonprofit that also assisted Sum’s team, announced that 800 young people from Boston started jobs through the group’s SummerWorks program. “We want to keep kids safe and engaged,” said John J. Drew, president and chief executive officer of the group, in a statement. “We know that hot summer days can stir unrest in city streets.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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