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As cities across the country consider diverting police department dollars into social programs, some are looking at summer jobs for low-income youth. Through these summer youth employment programs, young people can make some money, learn new skills and stay productive. From member station KUNC in northern Colorado, Leigh Paterson reports.
LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: Last month, New York slashed police spending but did fund its massive summer youth employment program. Cincinnati shifted a million dollars out of its police budget to expand youth employment. Los Angeles did something similar to its $1.8 billion police budget. Here's LA city council member Curren Price.
CURREN PRICE: Well, my motion shifted $150 million from the police department budget.
PATERSON: Ten million of that will go to the city's summer youth employment program. He said this reallocation is a direct response to recent protests against police violence.
PRICE: We know that, for some, this is still not enough, but it's an important start and a recognition that we need to be providing more equitable services to our communities of color.
PATERSON: As cities try to figure out how to redistribute police dollars to underserved communities, there's some evidence that summer youth employment programs do change outcomes for the kids who participate.
ALICIA SASSER MODESTINO: Over the last five years, I would say we've been seeing some emerging research on these programs.
PATERSON: Showing that they're associated with a significant drop in arrests for violent crime, explains Alicia Sasser Modestino, a labor economist at Northeastern University in Boston. The few independent studies that have been done don't show a clear link between other outcomes, like school attendance and future employment. But...
SASSER MODESTINO: In terms of being able to narrow differences across groups or reduce inequality, the summer jobs program is something that could be used effectively to be able to do that.
PATERSON: Eighteen-year-old Nevaeh Casanova is a young woman who's been part of Denver's summer jobs program for years. Working at the Boys & Girls Club, she's staffed the front desk, helped out with lunch and taught peer-mentoring skills.
NEVAEH CASANOVA: The summer job definitely helps me, like, learn different experiences. It helps me learn how to deal with people better 'cause there's always going to be different people, like, in everything that you do. And not everybody's just going to be the same.
PATERSON: Summer work helped Nevaeh overcome extreme shyness. She used to have trouble ordering food in restaurants and struggled to be around other kids in school. Summer work also helped her stay out of trouble.
CASANOVA: A lot of, like, what's around here and stuff - gang members, violence, everything like that. Like, that's all you hear about.
PATERSON: So she says that if she didn't have her mom and dad and the support of city programs...
CASANOVA: I could have definitely went the other way instead of going into the path I'm at now.
PATERSON: But this summer, because of the coronavirus, things are different. Like other cities, Denver is shifting many of its summer jobs for young people online. Nevaeh won't be working at the Boys & Girls Club, but the city did help her find work elsewhere.
CASANOVA: So it's a youth brand ambassador.
PATERSON: That means she'll be working online with the University of Colorado, Boulder, on videos, social media posts and virtual events on youth gun violence prevention.
CASANOVA: I'm excited to see, like, what it's going to bring and, like, what experience I'm going to get out of it.
PATERSON: Even if this year her summer job is mostly online.
For NPR News, I'm Leigh Paterson in Denver.
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