Exploring Whether and How to Help Youth Be Their Own Bosses

A young businesswoman.

Entrepreneurial Development for U.S. Minority Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth: A Qualitative Inquiry on Value, Barriers, and Impact on Health” (abstract). Larissa Jennings, Deborah Shore, Nancy Strohminger and Burgundi Allison. Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 49 (February 2015).

What it’s about: The authors wanted to know whether programs that teach ethnic minority homeless youth how to be entrepreneurs could be a way to improve their health and economic well-being. To find out whether youth would be interested and what barriers to entrepreneurship might be, the researchers held focus group discussions with homeless and unstably-housed young people in Baltimore and Washington. Youth were between 15 and 24, experienced homelessness within the 18 months before the study, and had received supportive residential services, psychosocial counseling or health education from one of two community-based organizations.

Why read it: A number of developing nations have successfully combined health and entrepreneurial development programs to help young people get out of homelessness and poverty by gaining earning power and financial literacy. But there’s little knowledge about whether similar programs could meet the needs and fit the interests of homeless youth in the United States.

Biggest takeaways from the research: While most of the youth surveyed did not have formal jobs, many engaged in informal businesess, such as doing odd jobs (raking leaves, washing cars, and so on) or selling drugs and doing other illicit activities.

Young people's reasons for being interested in an entrepreneurship program fell into four categories:

  1. Inadequacy of traditional employment and education. One young person said, “Financially, I was getting like $10 an hour, and I didn’t feel like that was really helpin’ me much.”
  2. The desire to be one’s own boss. Another young person said, “Why I want to have my own business is because no one’s safer working for someone else. You’re not safe! And they don’t know they not safe until they job end and they out of money.”
  3. An alternative to joblessness or illicit income. A participant said, “I think it would definitely help me grow as a person because the more knowledge you have the more empowered you are. Especially when you know exactly how to do what you thinking. ... So it would also definitely help me as far as confidence-wise. I would be less likely to go back onto the block seeing as that I see another route.”
  4. Building on current activities. Another young person said, “I make jewelry and clothes and stuff like that. So I’m at this point in my life where I’m trying to do it the right way. ... I’m just trying to do everything legit. So basically [receiving services] about how to start it the right way. I don’t know ... I just need some professional advice.”

Youth cited four major barriers to their entrepreneurial success: lacking mentors, not knowing what is possible, being depressed or having other mental health problems, and encountering negative reactions from peers (fear that their friends would think they had “sold out”).

The authors suggest youth-serving programs could capitalize on youth's interest in working for themselves and remove barriers at the same time by designing integrated health and entrepreneurship programs specifically for low-income minority youth, especially those who are homeless or unstably housed. The authors also encourage the use of local entrepreneurs as mentors, writing, "Engaging local mentors in youth entrepreneurial programs may ... help to reinforce new financial practices among youth, as many described lacking positive business role models as a barrier in envisioning a similarly self-sufficient future for themselves."

Additional references: Look for more articles about employment and health interventions in NCFY’s research library.

In "Primary Sources: Integrated Employment and Mental Health Services-- How Well Do They Work For Homeless Youth?," NCFY reports about a study on the effect on young people of two programs that combine employment and mental health services.

"From Takeoff to Landing: Steps to Meaningful Employment" explains how programs can take a comprehensive approach to preparing young people for employment and finding them jobs.

"Bright Idea: Business Models" discusses the value of mentors in an entrepreneurship program.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.)

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