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By John Hancock
The road to financial success and independence can be a bumpy one for young people today. While the unemployment rate is at a record low, wage growth is lagging. On top of that, the increasing popularity of the gig economy means many are experiencing less job stability, fewer benefits, and more working hours. In short, people are still struggling to make a living, especially millennials who are simultaneously trying to pay off student loan debt and invest in their futures.
Boston knows this all too well. Our city is home to more than 150,000 college students, yet the high cost of living—11.8% more expensive than the national average—hinders graduates from being able to reach their full potential here. These obstacles pose even more of a threat to our minority populations, who typically don’t have access to the same level of financial education and wealth-building opportunities.
In order to set the foundation for a stable life, it is crucial to create good financial habits from a young age. While many Boomers and Gen Xers reflect fondly on their time spent scooping ice cream or mowing lawns each summer, only 36 percent of teens are participating in the labor market today. In some cases, these experiences are being replaced with extracurricular activities and pre-college programs, but for many, it has become increasingly difficult to gain the work experience needed to successfully navigate the job market after high school.
Summer youth employment programs have been shown to have a positive impact on the populations they serve, particularly for low-income and minority youth, helping them improve economic empowerment, create community engagement opportunities, and contribute to a more diverse workforce pipeline for cities and companies.
John Hancock’s MLK Scholars program is one of the largest summer jobs programs of its kind in the U.S. and sponsors the employment of 650 Boston teens at nearly 60 local non-profit organizations, as well as John Hancock’s headquarters, each year. It is a unique cross-sector collaboration involving strategic partnerships with The City of Boston, Boston University, The Boston Globe, and Partners HealthCare, including additional support from The Ad Club, Boston Cares, The Center for Teen Empowerment, and EVERFI.
Twenty-three Scholars, each of whom worked at John Hancock this summer, gathered each week for development workshops focused on themes like leadership style, stress relief, public speaking, and learning your personality type. They were also paired with John Hancock employees who served as mentors and participated in group projects, working together as young change-makers to come up with solutions to specific business challenges related to diversity and inclusion, conscious investing, community engagement, and sustainability. All 650 MLK Scholars also attended Leadership Forums at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, involving small group activities and presentations from civic and business leaders.
Damore Samuels, an MLK Scholar who worked with the communications team at John Hancock this summer, shared that through her internship, she had the opportunity to work and meet with different people. Damore worked with the Diversity and Inclusion team and spent time researching diversity and inclusion in corporate America and within John Hancock. She shared, “I learned the many aspects of how the team advocates for John Hancock employees, along with internal communications skills. As interns, we were able to learn new skills and show what we have to offer by demonstrating what we learned. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity and appreciate John Hancock’s dedication in making this experience one of our best—we are leaving hoping that we can share the great things we learned this summer.”
To offer practical financial management experience, MLK Scholars earn a stipend for their hard work and participate in an online financial literacy course through education technology platform EVERFI, which covers basics such as budgeting and checking accounts for beginners, as well as taxes, credit scores, and financing higher education.
Miguel Cabrera participated in the program this summer and said, “Being an MLK scholar has helped me be knowledgeable about the things I care about. Participating in this program allowed me to make informed decisions about my civic engagement and finances.”
In a survey of 2018 MLK Scholar participants, a significant number said they were using their paychecks to contribute to household expenses for their families and 87% reported having learned something new that encouraged them to be more responsible when it comes to financial planning.
“We believe equipping Boston youth with the right skills, knowledge, and advice makes them more likely to remain employed throughout their lives,” said Annie Duong, a past MLK Scholar herself, who now serves as the MLK Scholars Program Manager at John Hancock. “Not everyone has equal access to meaningful employment and financial education. That was true for me when I joined the MLK Scholars program in 2010 and if it hadn’t been for that, I would have had a very challenging path to my field of choice.”
India Pulido was an MLK scholar employed at the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) from 2007 to 2010, working first in an administrative role and then with the Girls Leadership Program. India discovered her passion for working with at-risk youth during her time at BCYF. Now, after studying psychology in college—with a double minor in gender studies and sociology—India works with Children’s Services of Roxbury. India leads a diverse team of more than 70 individuals and applies the organizational and budgeting skills she learned as an MLK Scholar to develop grant proposals to help even more families in need.
Since the MLK Scholars program began in 2008, it has reached more than 5,000 teens, making a direct positive impact on their individual financial situations and career prospects. The program has successfully melded support from city officials and business leaders to help promote the development of a diverse workforce pipeline in Boston, which will be necessary to keep our city at the forefront of innovation in healthcare, finance, arts, STEM, and more.