As New York City’s teenagers and young adults face another summer disrupted by the pandemic, advocates and community leaders are warning that the lack of jobs and opportunities for this generation could have dire consequences.

Citing the budget crisis caused by the pandemic, last year Mayor Bill de Blasio gutted the long-standing Summer Youth Employment Program, the largest youth jobs program in the country. After intense lobbying, de Blasio restored $51 million of the $124 million budget for the rebranded SYEP Summer Bridge program. However, the reduction in funding meant that jobs were available for 35,000 teenagers and young adults, less than half of the usual number.

Now advocates are trying to ensure the summer of 2021 offers better opportunities for young New Yorkers.

“Young people don't have anything to do this summer because of COVID, because of the financial crisis, because of the severe underfunding of youth services and education generally,” said Carmen Lopez Villamil, a 17-year-old organizer with Teens Take Charge. The youth activist group is campaigning to make the city’s summer employment offerings universal for every eligible young New Yorker.

“Last year, over 100,000 people were rejected from the Summer Youth Employment Program, which means that they had nothing to do, presumably sitting in their houses, isolated, without ...any contact with other people and without any financial support,” Lopez Villamil added.

SYEP, which predominantly serves low-income young people ages 14 to 24, traditionally begins shortly after the Fourth of July holiday. Program participants receive a stipend—last summer it was $1,000 for young people ages 16 to 24 working 15 hours a week for six weeks, and $700 for those ages 14 to 15 working a total of 60 hours.

A spokesperson for the Department of Youth and Community Development said the city is committed to offering 70,000 SYEP jobs this summer, as well as summer enrichment services at 185 community centers in schools and public housing throughout the city.

“As we have seen during the pandemic, keeping young people connected to vital services and supportive programs is more important than ever. Whether it’s employment, job training, afterschool, housing or mental health services, the City will continue to prioritize our young people and provide them the tools to achieve career and life success,” said Mark Zustovich of the Department of Youth & Community Development in an email statement.

The pandemic’s disruption of education and jobs will likely lead to “an enormous surge” in the population of 16- to 24-year-old New Yorkers known as “out-of-school/out-of-work,” according to a report from the citywide Disconnected Youth Task Force released last month.

“The work of policymakers in this area accordingly must shift toward helping as many young adults as possible to quickly reconnect to school and employment. Implicit in the response should be a commitment to ensure that young adults who were not in school or not working even prior to the pandemic do not get lost or overlooked,” the report said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has caused severe disruptions in education as well as the labor market, with New York City’s young people bearing some of the heaviest costs,” said David Fischer, Executive Director of the NYC Center for Youth Employment, in a press release last month as the city announced the task force’s programs to serve more than 13,000 teens and young adults who may have fallen off the radar, including a bridge program to begin college at CUNY as well as a number of small-scale internship and apprenticeship programs.

With New York City’s economy still battered -- especially in the food service and retail sectors that often gave teenagers their first jobs -- Lopez Villamil said it’s up to City Hall to make sure young New Yorkers have their own path to economic recovery.

“The city has an opportunity now to put funding into young people, to say that we have this framework for something for you to do, so you can learn about yourself and learn about our society and figure out how you fit into it,” she said. “And you can get paid for it.”