Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America

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Author(s): Measure of America (MOA)

Published: March 2017

Report Intro/Brief:
“First, the good news: fewer young people are disconnected from school and work today than were before the Great Recession. The 2015 youth disconnection rate, 12.3 percent, is below the 2008 rate of 12.6 and well below the 2010 youth disconnection peak, 14.7 percent. This 16 percent drop over five years translates to roughly 900,000 fewer young people cut off from pathways that lead to independent, rewarding adulthoods.

Disconnected youth are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. Being detached from both the educational system and the labor market during the pivotal years of emerging adulthood can be dispiriting and damaging to a young person, and the effects of youth disconnection have been shown to follow individuals for the rest of their lives, resulting in lower incomes, higher unemployment rates, and negative physical and mental health outcomes. In Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America, MOA updates disconnection data since we last looked at this topic in the 2015 report Zeroing In on Place and Race: Youth Disconnection in American Cities for key geographies (states, metro areas, and counties) as well as by race and ethnicity and gender.

Key findings include:

  • In 2015, 4.9 million young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 were disconnected—12.3 percent of American youth, about one in eight. This is a significant drop from the post-recession high of 14.7 percent, over 5.8 million youth, in 2010.
  • Rural-urban divide. This research shows that rural counties as a whole are faring considerably worse than more populous counties in terms of youth disconnection. In completely rural counties, the youth disconnection rate is 20.3 percent, much higher than the rate for counties in urban centers (14.2 percent) or for suburban counties (12.3 percent). Rural counties in the South have a particularly high rate: 24.0 percent— double the national rate.
  • Race and ethnicity. There is astonishing variation in disconnection rates by race and ethnicity, ranging from nearly one in fourteen Asian American youth to more than one in four Native American young people. The Asian American youth disconnection rate is 7.2 percent; the white rate is 10.1 percent; the Latino rate is 14.3 percent; the black rate is 18.9 percent; and the Native American rate is 25.4 percent. Though the rate varies among Asian subgroups, most are performing well on this indicator; only Hmong Americans have a rate of youth disconnection that surpasses the US average.
  • Women and men. Nationally, girls and young women are slightly less likely to be disconnected than boys and young men, 0 percent vs. 12.5 percent, a small but statistically significant difference. The difference in youth disconnection rates between genders plays out differently for each racial or ethnic group.
  • Young people are disconnected at rates that range from under 8 percent in some states (New Hampshire, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, Minnesota, and Iowa) to over twice that in others, with New Mexico (17.4 percent), West Virginia (17.0 percent), and Mississippi (16.7 percent) facing the greatest challenges.
  • Black-white gaps. Measure of America calculated the disconnection rate for blacks, Latinos, and whites at the state level when data allowed. The black-white disparity is so stark that even in states where white youth are faring the worst, they are still doing better than US blacks on average, and even in states where blacks are faring the best, they are still not doing as well as US whites on average.
  • Top and bottom metro areas. Among the country’s ninety-eight most populous metro areas, greater Albany, NY (6.5 percent), Grand Rapids, MI (6.8 percent), and Omaha, NE-IA (7.1 percent) had the lowest youth disconnection rates. The Bakersfield, CA (18.7 percent), McAllen, TX (19.7 percent), and Augusta, GA-SC (21.0 percent) metro areas had the highest rates.”

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