Municipal leaders have a vested interest in helping at-risk youth forge strong connections to school, work and caring adults. By linking disadvantaged young people with educational opportunities, employment, and vital wraparound services, cities can lay the foundation for a more vibrant economy while also making their communities safer and their neighborhoods stronger and more stable.
Many of our nation’s high schools are ill-equipped to prepare students for work, college, and citizenship. Nearly one-third of students do not graduate from high school on time or at all. Among African American, Latino, and Native American students, approximately half graduate. Young people without a high school diploma have worse employment outcomes, lower average incomes and higher rates of criminal activity. City leaders can partner with school districts and community partners to expand options and alternatives for students who struggle in traditional high school settings.
Even in a strong economy, some individuals have difficulty finding work: welfare recipients, high school dropouts, homeless individuals, or people with criminal records. Cities that help hard-to-employ residents overcome barriers to work can increase tax revenue, reduce the need for emergency services, and reduce crime. Time-limited, publicly-funded, wage-based transitional jobs, as well as varying levels of training and support, can help those with barriers to employment develop the skills and experience needed to attain and sustain unsubsidized jobs.
Each year, thousands of older youth living in foster families and group homes make the difficult transition to independent adulthood. With few supports available, youth emancipating from foster care are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, reduced education levels, poor health, reliance on public benefits, and involvement in criminal activity. While most cities do not play a role in administering the foster care system, city leaders can work with other local agencies to connect youth in transition to vital education, employment, housing and health services.
Recognizing that youth who are on the street are particularly vulnerable, cities are focusing new attention on homeless young people. Two-thirds of homeless youth have suffered from physical or sexual abuse, three-quarters have dropped out of school, and up to 80 percent have mental health issues or use drugs. In addition, nearly a quarter of youth who have exited the foster care system experience homelessness. Cities can help young people find immediate, appropriate shelter, followed by access to transitional housing, employment services and other supports to maintain stable housing.
More than 725,000 people in the U.S. reenter their communities from incarceration each year, including 200,000 juveniles and young adults returning from juvenile detention or state or federal prison. For these teens and young adults, the risk of long-term disconnection from school, work and the community – and the likelihood that they will commit additional crimes – is extremely high. Although cities do not have direct control over juvenile justice, municipal officials can work with county and state agencies and other partners to intervene with youth on probation and facilitate the reentry of young people involved in the criminal justice systems both pre- and post-release.