KIDS COUNT Report: 6.5 Million Youth and Young Adults Neither in School Nor Working

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity
December 3, 2012

By Michael Karpman

Youth have more difficulty gaining a foothold in the U.S. labor market than at any time since the 1950s, according to a new KIDS COUNT policy report published today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

The report, Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, estimates that nearly 6.5 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are disconnected from both school and the workforce.  That number includes 4.3 million – or one in five – young adults ages 20-24.  The national employment rate for teens ages 16-19 has fallen from 46 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2011, and is only 18 percent in large states such as California and Florida. 

“Last in Line for Jobs”

The growing ranks of disconnected youth and young adults pose enormous challenges to cities across the country.  Early work experience provides youth with skills and work habits that lay the foundation for their entire professional careers.  Failure to grasp that first rung of the job ladder can make it more difficult to achieve stable employment later in life and can depress lifetime earnings.  Because 1.4 million disconnected youth are also parents, the challenges they face in finding work will also negatively affect many of their children.

While there are many factors behind the trend of declining youth employment, the KIDS COUNT report emphasizes the role of increasing skill requirements across the labor market, a lack of job openings, and competition from older workers for jobs that used to be filled by teens and young adults.  Many disconnected youth either do not graduate from high school on time or graduate unprepared for postsecondary education and the workforce, leaving them “last in line” for the jobs that are available. 

What Works: Combining Education, Training and Employment

Panelists at KIDS COUNT Policy Briefing

John Wilcox (second from left),
of Corporate Voices for Working
Families, speaks at a KIDS COUNT
policy briefing.  Other panelists (from
left): Stacey Stewart, United Way
Worldwide; Wilcox; Karen Pittman,
Forum for Youth Investment; John
Bridgeland, Civic Enterprises; Melody
Barnes, former White House Domestic
Policy Council Director; Mark Edwards,
Opportunity Nation.

At a policy briefing hosted in Washington, D.C., by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a panel of prominent national experts – including former White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, United Way Worldwide President Stacey Stewart, Forum for Youth Investment President and CEO Karen Pittman, and Corporate Voices for Working Families Executive Director John Wilcox – discussed potential solutions to the youth employment crisis described in the Youth and Work report. 

Of particular value are opportunities that combine education, job training and paid employment with connections to caring adults and supportive services.  For instance, panelists praised initiatives such as YouthBuild, which assists youth in obtaining their high school diploma or a GED while simultaneously learning construction skills and helping to build affordable housing.  Jamiel Alexander, a graduate of Crispus Attucks YouthBuild Charter School in York, Pa., recounted how the chance to earn income initially drew him toward the program, which then opened the door to educational opportunity, family-supporting work, and participation in the National Council of Young Leaders.

Panelists also discussed Year Up, a year-long, intensive training program that places participants in internships, provides hard and soft job skills training, and enables youth to earn college credits and a weekly stipend.  These programs underscore the potential benefits of collaboration among local officials, schools, community colleges and employers on behalf of older youth and young adults.

“No One Sector Can Do It Alone”

While there are many programs throughout the country that shed light on “what works,” said Barnes, the challenge is to bring them to scale.  The KIDS COUNT report identifies this as one of six recommendations for creating multiple pathways to success for disconnected youth.  Additional recommendations include:

  • Development of a national youth employment strategy that streamlines systems, makes funding more flexible and links funding to results;
  • Alignment of resources within communities to support collaborative efforts;
  • Support for enterprise development that produces new jobs;
  • Creation of career pathways and earn-and-learn programs for youth; and
  • Two-generation approaches that focus on both children and their parents.

Reinforcing a key message of the report, Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, stressed that “no one sector can do it alone.”  Rather, leaders from government, education, the business community, philanthropies, nonprofit and faith-based organizations must come together to identify solutions that reconnect youth with education and employment.

“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,” said McCarthy.

Details: Click here to download the Youth and Work report.  To learn more about NLC’s efforts to help cities reengage disconnected youth, contact Andrew Moore at (215) 848-6910 or moore@nlc.org.