According to the most recent data, more than 5.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are disconnected from education and employment. That means more than one in seven of everyone in that age group are neither in school nor working.
Why have so many young people stopped pursuing their education and now find themselves adrift in the work world? Research shows that children living in distressed circumstances are more likely to drop out of school or encounter difficulties in entering the labor force. Clearly, children in low-income households face a significant risk of becoming disconnected young adults.
Earlier this week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which provides a detailed picture of children in the United States. The report is based, in large part, on recent survey data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. A key takeaway is that the ongoing economic recovery has not been strong enough to improve the lives of America’s working poor. In fact, since the Great Recession, the number of children living in low-income, working families has actually grown by 10 percent to 18.7 million. About one in three children live in households where no parent is working full-time. For the report, the Casey Foundation compiled a set of 16 economic, education and social indicators of child well-being. First, the good news. According to the 2015 data book, 10 of those indicators saw improvement. For example:
- The teen birth rate dropped 35 percent, from 40 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2008 to 26 births per 1,000 in 2013.
- During a five-year period, the percentage of teens abusing alcohol or drugs dropped from 8 percent to 6 percent.
- The percentage of children living in families whose household heads lacked a high school diploma dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent.
- The on-time high school graduation rate jumped from 75 percent in 2007-08 to 81 percent in 2011-12.
- Improvements also were seen in the measures of fourth-grade reading ability, eighth-grade math proficiency, the incidence of low-birth-weight babies, health insurance coverage, childhood deaths, and the number of children living in families hampered by high housing costs.
The so-so news: One indicator remained unchanged. In 2013, 8 percent of teens who were out of school weren’t working, the same rate recorded in 2008.
Now the bad news: The report notes deteriorating trends in five of the indicators:
- The percentage of children not attending pre-school – up 2 percent.
- The percentage of children living in single-parent families – up 9 percent.
- The percentage of children whose parents lacked full-time employment – up 15 percent.
- The percentage of children living in poverty – up 22 percent.
- The percentage of children living in high poverty areas – up 27 percent.
The large increases in the poverty rate and the percentage of children living in economically stressed communities are particularly worrisome. Many of these children are at risk of becoming disconnected youth and young adults. As the report notes: “When very young children experience poverty, particularly if that poverty is deep and persistent, they are at high risk of encountering difficulties later in life — having poor adolescent health, becoming teen mothers, dropping out of school and facing poor employment outcomes.” We shouldn’t be surprised when they disconnect from school and the labor force.
As a society, we can create and support more effective pathways for at-risk youth. USA Funds currently is partnering with several organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Jobs for America’s Graduates, to encourage young people to complete their education by helping them establish an early, resilient connection to work.