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10,000 District Youth Without Jobs, School in Heat of Summer: A Costly Formula

Talib I. Karim | 6/1/2011, 3:01 p.m.

When District of Columbia public schools recess for the summer, the nation's capital faces a challenge with potentially deadly consequences. Specifically that as many as 10,000 D.C. youth will be without jobs, internships or educational programs to preoccupy their time during oncoming sweltering heat.

A local newspaper recently featured a cover page article chronicling the spike in past rates of crime --- mostly committed by young people -- with the onset of milder weather. The article predicted that this year, the rise in crime over the summer could be record-breaking due in large part to cuts in the mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program.

At its peak, the summer jobs program employed more than 20,000 city youth. Without doubt, the "summer youth paycheck program," as it was known to some, was controversial. In addition to perennial overspending issues, the program was also criticized for dispensing checks in exchange for merely a modicum of work.

Cuts in this year's program have come at the same time District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) officials have had to balance the system's books by slashing summer school offerings. As a result, only students in need of remaining credits to earn high school diplomas may be eligible to attend summer classes.

One local advocacy group, D.C. Lawyers for Youth (DCLY), asserts that the connection between youth violence and the summer is an "urban legend." It makes this claim based upon the number of youth arrests during past summers. However, the youth arrest rate is far from conclusive evidence of the youth crime or youth injury rate.

This week's spate of shootings on the hot Memorial Day evening is a much better indication of what one Metropolitan Police Department officer described as the signs of a "hot summer." While many of us were settling down for the night after a long weekend of barbecue, baseball and other fun, three young people were shot almost simultaneously in different parts of the District. One, a 15-year-old, was shot blocks from the U.S. Capitol. He died as I and other bystanders looked on with disbelief at the senseless loss of life and potential economic harm caused thereby.

As a health finance lawyer, I know all too well the costs facing the District by this deadly combination. Researchers predict that fatal injuries caused by assault among youth ages 15 to 24 years cost tax payers $4 billion annually for medical care alone, with an additional cost of $32 billion in lost productivity. For non-fatal injuries caused by assault, the per-person cost for an injury requiring hospitalization is $24,353 for medical care and $57,029 for lost productivity. The cost of acute care treatment for gun violence injuries conservatively ranges from $15,000 to $32,000 per victim.

And who bears the cost of the summer season of "youth mayhem?" We, the taxpayers.

The vast numbers of youth treated in D.C. emergency rooms due to violence-related injuries are covered by insurance that's tax-payer funded -- or are uninsured -- leaving bills that are ultimately absorbed by us with private insurance, in the form of higher premiums.