'Youth Disconnection' Rate Down but Challenges Remain, Study Finds

'Youth Disconnection' Rate Down but Challenges Remain, Study Finds

While the U.S. youth disconnection rate — the percentage of young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school — fell for the seventh consecutive year in 2017, progress is slowing, a report from Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, finds.

Based on employment and enrollment data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey, the report, Making the Connection: Transportation and Youth Disconnection (44 pages, PDF), found that while the national youth disconnection rate was 11.5 percent, down slightly from 11.7 percent in 2016 and significantly from the post-recession high of 14.7 percent in 2010, the pace of improvement is slowing. Funded by the Schultz Family Foundation, the report also found that after steady declines since 2010 across racial/ethnic groups, the African-American youth disconnection rate ticked up to 17.9 percent rate in 2017, from 17.1 percent in 2016, with particularly high rates in Nevada (26.6 percent), Wisconsin (26 percent), and Arkansas (24.5 percent). Nationally, Native American youth had the highest disconnection rate, at 23.9 percent, followed by African Americans (17.9 percent), Latinx (13.2 percent), white Americans (9.4 percent), and Asian Americans (6.6 percent), albeit with variations among subgroups.

While the youth disconnection rate is slightly higher for men (11.8 percent) than for women (11.1 percent) overall, among Asian Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans, women have a slightly higher rate, whereas African-American men (20.8 percent) are significantly more likely to be disconnected than African-American women (14.8 percent). According to the report, Minnesota has the lowest overall disconnection rate (6.2 percent), followed by Iowa (7 percent), Massachusetts (7.1 percent), and North Dakota (7.1 percent), while West Virginia has the highest rate (17 percent), followed by New Mexico (16.5 percent) and Mississippi (16.4 percent). Among metro areas, Memphis (which includes parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas) and Stockton-Lodi (California) had the highest rates (18 percent), followed by Augusta-Richmond County (Georgia and South Carolina, 17.6 percent) and Bakersfield (California, 17.3 percent). 

The report notes that current patterns of youth disconnection by place and race can be attributed in part to the history of redlining, residential segregation, and disinvestment in central cities, with disconnection in many metro areas closely linked to poor access to transportation, which in turn affects access to jobs and educational opportunities. Recent studies have found that youth unemployment is lower in cities with better public transportation, and that cities that improve public transit systems see greater reductions in youth unemployment.

"The national slowdown in improvement is seen more clearly when you zoom in to certain regions, metro areas, and racial and ethnic groups," said Measure of America director Kristen Lewis. "Racial discrimination, residential segregation, gender bias, and regional transportation systems built for suburban car owners: these historical barriers hold back too many young people today. Investments in transportation that connects disadvantaged young people to better schools and jobs can create an infrastructure of opportunity that will benefit everyone."