America’s Disconnected Youth: A Problem with a Solution Pending

There is a segment of the American population with massive, untapped potential (and one that KRA Corporation has long championed) that is approaching Depression Era-levels of unemployment—America’s disconnected youth.

An interesting report from January 2012, The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth, published by researchers from University of New York and Columbia University estimated that as many as 7 million young Americans between the ages of 16-24 were out of school and unemployed in 2011.

Dubbed “Opportunity Youth,” the researchers divide the disconnected youth into two categories: chronic (unemployed and out of school or work after the age of 16) which they estimated at 3.4 million, and under-attached (limited schooling and work experience but without tertiary education of stable employment) estimated at 3.3 million.  A more recent Measure of America report from September, 2012, estimated that one in seven in that age group are disconnected and “cost” approximately $93.7 billion in government support and lost tax revenue.

Beyond the price tag for taxpayers, there is also the societal and the individual costs to consider. With the early lack of attachment, there are often far-reaching effects. Unemployment, higher likelihood of criminal activity, and poor health at a young age result in diminished vocational experience (resulting in lowered earning potential), difficulty in finding employment after incarceration, and an inability to find employment with health insurance.

The factors contributing to disconnection are numerous. Ethnicity, disability, familial instability, sexual orientation, personal beliefs, dropping out of high school, care-giving responsibilities, and mental or health conditions are some of the more documented reasons; and, according to an article posted on the CLASP website, low-income young African-American and Latino men are most at risk.

This situation has prompted Federal action. Last year speaking to the record number of America’s disconnected youth, President Obama pointed to the need for immediate action calling it an “all-hands-on-deck moment” and launched the Summer Jobs+ program as a joint initiative between the Federal government and private business. Additionally, tax credits were made available to businesses that employed disconnected youth.

The Council for Community Solutions was tasked with determining recommendations to disconnected and issued a report Community Solutions for Opportunity Youth that was aimed at “putting every young person on a clear path to economic opportunity.”

The Department of Education’s June 2012 request for information, Strategies for Improving Outcomes for Disconnected Youth, to “create innovative and comprehensive reengagement strategies that encourage additional academic and non-academic supports and support multiple pathways to prepare disconnected youth for college and career success” further evidenced the Federal government’s commitment to finding a solution by involving key stakeholders.

There is little homogeneity as to solutions in addressing or remedying the issue of disconnected youth. It is not a one-size-fits-all cure as situations and circumstances differ significantly.  Some recommendations from the Measure of America suggest that technical or vocational technology education and certificates, associate’s degrees as well as increased intervention and on-the job training be explored as potential alternatives to a 4-year degree—an opinion explored by KRA Corporation in a previous post.

The problem persists, but there seems to be an urgency at play in identifying, developing and harnessing the promise that this underserved group offers.  The KRA Corporation team continues its nationwide efforts to address this serious problem through our WIA-funded In-School and Out-of-School Youth Services Programs. Our innovative YES (Youth Employability and Success) Programs support youth education, training, and employment through an extensive mix of services.

KRA Corporation looks forward to the future efforts and policies that Federal agencies offer in combatting this pervasive problem. Every initiative and attempt is a step closer to determining a better course of action and successful integration of this population into the workforce.  In that regard, as we have for many years in the past, KRA is proudly sponsoring the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals’ 2013 Youth Development Symposium convening now (October 28-30th)  in Chicago.