Study Says U.S. Lags Behind Developed Countries on Youth Investments

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The United States should establish a cabinet-level youth department to why the country is falling behind most other developed countries on youth investments,  according to a report released today at a briefing that marked the establishment of a youth-related congressional caucus. 

The report – Investing in Youth: How Does the U.S. Compare? by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago  – compares identifiable investments in youth and basic markers such as education, employment and incarceration justice, with similar statistics from other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The study does not count in the United State’s favor any investments made by the government in programs if the study authors determined that the program was necessary to address a problem caused by a lack of more important investments in that issue area.

For example, the authors wrote, funding for Upward Bound was not calculated into spending on students because the program “is needed to make up for the lack of academic enrichment and preparation in the school day.”

Among the report’s other findings: 

-The United States ranks behind 36 out of 41 OECD countries when it comes to child poverty and has the second highest child poverty rate among the 15 “high income” OECD countries. One in five children in the United States is poor, and one in 12 children here Iives in “extreme poverty”

-The U.S. is behind every Western and “several” Eastern European countries in the percentage of Gross Domestic Product spent on students.

-The U.S. has the third lowest high school graduation rate of the 14 most comparable OECD countries.

-The U.S. spends 2.8 times as much per prisoner as per public school student, and leads all nations in the percentage of population behind bars.

“We want investment, not incarceration,” one young speaker from Newark, N.J.,  said at an afternoon briefing, which was attended mostly by youths from urban areas including Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston. He said the graduation rate in his city was 29 percent.

Report authors Stacey Horn and Pauline Lipman recommended the establishment of a national youth department.

“It is notable that the United States has no such cabinet level ministry or department focused on youth, particularly since the U.S. fares so poorly on key youth indicators compared with like countries,” the report said.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) received approval in July for his Congressional Caucus for Employing, Educating, and Empowering Youth, which so far does not include any other members. Youths from various programs, who attended the briefing, plan to establish a grass-roots youth caucus to work with Rush. Rush did not attend the meeting due to scheduling difficulties.

Rush has also written legislation, the “SAY YEA” bill, that would provide funding for states to implement summer job programs for low-income youth. The bill also includes giving government preference to contractors that work with and employ low-income youth.