Critical Moment to Connect Latino Youth to School and Jobs, Report Says

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A report released today by the National Council of La Raza urges organizations to partner with one another to find ways to connect Latino youths and young adults with education and job training.

Latino youth are 34 percent of all U.S. residents under 18, according to the report called  “Plugged In,” and 28 percent of Latinos between 16 and 24 never finish high school. Meanwhile, the report states, more than 70 percent of jobs will require more than a high school diploma by 2018.

“We can’t be having this same conversation in 2020,” said Simon Lopez, senior director of workforce and leadership development for NCLR. “If we are, it’s going to be a much bigger problem.”

"Plugged In” touts NCLR’s Escalera program as a possible solution. The program, which was started in 2001 with support from Pepsi, now operates in six sites nationwide. Escalera focuses on low-income and system-involved Latino youth, and provides  academic assistance, workforce preparation and health services after the school day.

The average age of participants is 18, said study author Ana Hageage, and to complete the program one must obtain a diploma or GED, and complete an internship.

The report provides an overview of Escalera sites in Los Angeles (66 percent of its 94 participants have completed the program), rural New Mexico (55 percent of 35 youth) and Austin, Texas (71 percent of 75 youth).

The major reasons cited by participants who drop out are housing problems, new contact with the juvenile or adult justice system and conflicts with work schedules, said Hageage. .

With the funding pie shrinking for social services at both the federal and state level, replicating Escalera or other programs for Latinos will likely require creative partnerships among nonprofits and with multiple government agencies.  

In the current fiscal climate, “we aren’t even talking about increased investments,” said Denise Forte, who heads the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development for the Department of Education, who spoke on a panel at the announcement of the report today. “It is now more about how to use the investments in front of us now.”