Employment: Archives 2014 & Earlier

How Not to Run Youth Employment

When it comes to expanding a youth employment program, you can have too much of a good thing.

That’s what happened in Washington, which was cited by Youth Today as one of the forward-looking jurisdictions that are using debit cards to pay youths in their summer employment programs. (See “Summer Jobs: Ditch the Paychecks and Paper,” July 2008.) The debit cards, however, only served to highlight the ongoing problems in the city’s program.

In mid-July, thousands of youths complained that they either were underpaid – sometimes getting as little as 5 cents – or not paid at all for the previous week’s work. Others said they were getting neither a meaningful educational nor a worthwhile job experience. Some spent the first four weeks of the program sitting in an auditorium or classroom with nothing to do.

David Umansky, a spokesman for the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, said the payment problems had nothing to do with the debit cards, but with incorrect information being entered into the computer system.

The larger problem was the summer jobs program itself.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had planned to increase the city’s long-troubled jobs program from 12,000 youths to 19,000 youths. The actual number exceeded 21,000, though no one is sure of the exact number. Sufficient money to pay all those additional workers wasn’t factored into the budget. Neither was the increase in the federal minimum wage – from $5.85 to $6.55 an hour, effective in late July – or the city’s $10 pay rate for college students.

By August, the program was $31 million over its $21 million budget. The mayor had to ask the D.C. City Council to use more than $20 million from a city contingency fund to pay the youth employees.

“The idea of enrolling as many teens as possible and then figuring out how to pay for it violates the basic principles of budgeting: deciding how much to spend and then sticking with it,” Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which studies budget and tax issues, told The Washington Post.

The mayor eventually forced out Summer Spencer, director of the Department of Employment Services, and planned to replace her with his chief of staff. Two city council members asked the city’s inspector general to investigate the payment problems, including reports that everyone who signed up for the program was paid whether they worked or not.


Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.


Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.


We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Recent Comments




Kennesaw State University Mountain Logo & Ceneter for Sustainable Journalism Logo
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape
Logo Grant professional Association Business Alliance

Copyright © 2018 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
Kennesaw State University, 1200 Chastain Blvd. Suite 310, Kennesaw GA 30144

To Top