Nearly 6.5 million teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce, are failing to gain the skills sought by employers in today's economy and are headed for chronic underemployment, a KIDS COUNT report from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.
According to Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity (20 pages, PDF), many of these disconnected youth do not graduate from high school on time or prepared for college, lack the skills required for jobs that pay well, and face competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs. The report provides state-by-state youth employment data and highlights how these issues are exacerbated among those from low-income families and minority populations, often perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of poverty. "All young people need opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "Ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today's economy must be a national priority, for the sake of their future roles as citizens and parents, the future of our workforce, and the strength of our nation as a whole."
According to the report, the overall employment rate among teens (ages 16 to 19) dropped 42 percent between 2000 and 2011, while 16 percent of African-American and Latino teens were disconnected from the job market and education, compared with the national average of 13 percent. Among young adults (ages 20-24), 29 percent of African Americans and 23 percent of Latinos were neither working nor in school, well above the 20 percent national average. Moreover, teens with family incomes below $20,000 were two and a half times as likely to be disconnected as those with family incomes of at least $100,000 (21 percent vs. 8 percent), while young adults were three times as likely to be disconnected (30 percent vs. 10 percent). Teen employment also varied widely by state, from 18 percent in California and Florida to 46 percent in North Dakota.
The report emphasizes the need to provide multiple pathways to success for disconnected youth, reengage high school dropouts, and create opportunities for youth to gain early job experience through community service, internships, and summer and part-time work. Recommendations include developing a national youth employment strategy that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding, and other support services more accessible and flexible; encourages more businesses to hire young people; and focuses on results rather than process.
"No one sector or system can solve this problem alone — it demands a collective and collaborative effort," said Patrice Cromwell, director of economic development at the Casey Foundation. "Businesses, government, philanthropy, and communities must work together with young people to help them develop the skills and experience they need to achieve long-term success and financial stability as adults."