Employment Pathways for Boys and Young Men of Color: Solutions and Strategies That Can Make a Difference

September 2016

Kisha Bird Clarence Okoh Center for Law and Social Policy

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Moriah Group


Employment is an important part of youth development and the successful progression into young adulthood. Young people learn important communication and social skills, and are also exposed to careers, workplace culture, and opportunities to hone problem-solving and interpersonal skills.

Research reinforces the importance of early work experience, especially for poor and low-income youth. Youth employment strategies, including summer jobs, paid internships, and year-round subsidized work experiences, can be linked to a broader approach to address poverty (Schwartz & Leos-Urbel, 2014). Children who are born poor—and are persistently poor—are significantly more likely than those not poor at birth to experience poverty in adulthood, unemployment, and underemployment (Ratcliffe & McKernan, 2012). Persistent childhood poverty (living below the federal poverty level for at least half of one’s childhood) is prevalent among Black children (Ratcliffe, 2015). To lift children—particularly children and youth of color—out of poverty, they must have access to work and a career path leading into adulthood.

Beyond eventual economic security and social mobility, there are many short and long-term benefits to youth employment. Employed teens are more likely to graduate high school, and recent research studies suggest that employment during the summer months can prevent involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems (Ingmire, 2014). Moreover, employment in the teen years is a significant predictor of successful attachment to the labor market into adulthood. It is also linked to increased earnings in the short-term and later in life (Sum, McLaughlin & Khatiwada, 2006). In fact, older youth have almost a 100% chance of being employed in a given year if they have worked more than 40 weeks in the previous year (Sum, Khatiwada, Trubskyy, Ross, McHugh & Palma, 2014).

Source: RWJF and Moriah Group