Getting your first job marks one of the most significant stages in our transition into adulthood. For decades, millions of New York City youth have taken this step through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), with the largest number of SYEP participants working in our hospitals. My first paid job was through SYEP, at New York Methodist Hospital during the summer of my junior year in high school, and during my time as a Borough Director for the Office of the New York City Comptroller, I was responsible for the Brooklyn internship program. I’m not alone in this – many members of our community and many of our city’s elected leaders are SYEP alumni. That’s why I am discouraged by the City’s announcement to suspend SYEP 2020 instead of working with communities and organizations to find safe, viable remote options.
SYEP directly and effectively addresses one of our communities’ most pressing needs: youth employment. Every year SYEP is the spark that transforms the lives of young people, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color. It gives them far more than just a paycheck… Through these jobs, our young people receive job training, career development, life skills and positive time use. By increasing youth employment, these jobs are also effective means of steering kids, some of whom are in foster care into a new and different life. For young people of color growing up in working-class neighborhoods in central Brooklyn like Flatbush, SYEP is a critical step towards economic empowerment.
Mayor de Blasio’s past support of SYEP is laudable and has made a difference — last year, SYEP served 75,000 youth, making it the largest program of its kind in the nation. The Mayoral Task Force on SYEP’s findings make it clear why this program is so important — it creates jobs, and it reduces crime and it transforms lives. Eliminating the program to save money during the pandemic is shortsighted and will have a negative long-term impact on thousands of young people, the organizations that depend on their summer workers, and our city as a whole.
Maimonides Hospital proudly boasts about the size and diversity of their SYEP team with a dedicated page on the hospital website — usually 400 youth work at the hospital each year. Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, the Mayor is asking people with prior experience working in hospitals, to come to service, and SYED alumni are sure to be highly represented amongst those who respond to this call to duty.
We will not recover from the COVID-19 crisis by cutting off the programs that make our city stronger. Instead of eliminating the largest youth jobs program in the nation, New York City must instead support and expand economic opportunities for our youth. SYEP can be at the forefront of the efforts to recover from the crisis and reorganize our city with a determined effort to end long term inequalities for communities of color. Completely cutting SYEP now will disproportionately increase the devastating economic impacts that the COVID-19 crisis is having in communities like Flatbush.
We are in a crisis that demands vision, courage and a willingness to invest in a better and stronger future for everyone. Cutting SYEP is exactly the opposite. The Mayor and the City Council must find a way to undo this short-sighted decision.
Josue Pierre is a candidate for the New York City Council in the 40th Council District and a Democratic State Committeeman in the 42nd Assembly District. He worked as a Senior Financial Analyst investing New York City pension money into affordable housing projects and more recently in Public Affairs as Brooklyn Borough Director for the Office of the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.