The Importance of Youth Jobs: Way More Than a Paycheck

A first job often means so much more than a paycheck. It can mean a connection to a lifelong mentor, the ability to envision a career path, a boost in self-confidence, an appreciation for the value of education, an off-ramp from a life on the streets, a belief that you can be something. But you don’t have to take our word for it.  

At the Youth Jobs+ Champions of Change event this fall, the youth Champions spoke eloquently about what their first jobs meant to them. For Deshawn Shepherd, a young Chicagoan who worked at FedEx through a program run by One Summer Chicago and Phalanx Family Services, it was the simple things – like learning from a mentor how to tie a tie, and feeling satisfied about being productive after a long, tiring day of work.

For 20-year-old community college student Tiffani Cooper, the multiple jobs she secured through Baltimore City’s YouthWorks since the age of 14 helped her develop the confidence that simply being herself and taking her time will pay off in her quest to become a successful hotel owner.

For St. Louis 12th grader Emmanuel Haynes, who worked at the Ronald Jones Funeral Chapels through the Mers Goodwill St. Louis Youth Jobs Program, it was discovering the importance of having a plan and vision for his life.

For San Francisco teen Abraham Alvarez, who worked for tech start-up Media Relevance through San Francisco Summer Jobs+ Future Graduates program, it was internalizing that, no matter your personal background, you can make a difference in other people’s lives.

Thanks to youth jobs programs, Deshawn, Tiffani, Emmanuel, Abraham, and tens of thousands of other young people now aspire to meaningful careers. Their success is critical for our economy. That is why we have worked so hard this year, through our Youth Jobs+ initiative, on getting local elected officials and business and community leaders to work together to connect young people with summer and year-round job opportunities. 

President Obama’s April challenge kicked off six months of a coordinated, Administration-wide effort on youth jobs. Over the summer, senior Administration officials, including a half-dozen Cabinet secretaries, participated in 25 roundtables around the country. They listened to, learned from and encouraged local governments and local employers to provide more opportunities for disconnected youth to enter the workforce.

We partnered with online job boards to spread the word about mentorships, internships and other employment opportunities. We distributed best practices, including a financial literacy toolkit and a Summer Employment Toolkit from the White House Council for Community Solutions. And, in September, we hosted a Youth Jobs+ Champions of Change Summit, at which hundreds of people and organizations devoted to engaging youth in the workforce shared best practices, tools, and tips.  

We are heartened that so many communities and employers answered the President’s challenge, giving tens of thousands of young people the experience of a first job. But the work is not done. We need you to continue mentoring youth, opening doors to first jobs, and helping young people join the workforce.

Danielle Gray is an Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary. Bethany Henderson is a White House Fellow.


Want to learn more or get involved? This short video explains how you can help.

Want to be inspired?  Discover the stories of all nine of our Youth Jobs+ Champions of Change, in their own words.

Related Topics: Jobs, Economy
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