The Federal Government Should Invest in Disconnected Youth
Each year, nearly half a million youth drop out of high school. Currently, about 3.8 million young people between ages 16 and 24 are out of school and out of work. This problem disproportionately affects low-income minority communities where high school dropout rates exceed 50 percent, where youth unemployment is extremely high, where gang participation and youth violence is on the rise, and where approximately one-third of all young black men are connected to the criminal justice system.
According to analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, the teen employment population ratio has fallen from 45 percent at the start of the decade to just 25 percent in October 2009 for all teens and 14 percent for black teens. Youth employment is at the lowest level in more than 60 years. This extended period of joblessness and idleness during these years that youth should be learning, earning, and developing their work skills and work ethic should be a cause for concern, not just because it fuels the inter-generational cycle of poverty, but because the nation's future economic competiveness cannot afford the loss of such a substantial proportion of its young talent.
We have learned from previous recoveries that as the economy rebounds, young people in economically distressed communities-especially young black males-will fall further behind in a labor market where academic credentials and occupational skills are the prerequisite for success. Addressing this issue will require comprehensive, systemic, and sustained interventions at a scale to produce significant outcomes. Several opportunities are on the legislative horizon for the Obama Administration and Congress to act. As part of its 2010 federal policy agenda, CLASP recommends that the administration and Congress do the following:
Include youth opportunities in job creation legislation. Include specific language requiring the creation of subsidized jobs and paid training opportunities to prepare youth for opportunities that emerge as a result of economic recovery or other infrastructure or economic development activities. This will assure that employment prospects for youth in distressed communities and disadvantaged situations are improved as the economy rebounds.
Ensure WIA Reauthorization focuses on disadvantaged youth. Increase focus on out-of-school youth and youth in high-risk situations, including funding Youth Opportunity Grants or a similar legislative vehicle that would provide federal funding to help build the youth service delivery capacity in communities of high youth distress; help communities align their education and youth-serving systems; and allow communities to establish programs that connect youth to alternative education, training, work experience, postsecondary opportunities and jobs. Build a permanent funding stream to support summer jobs, year-round work experience, internships, and transitional jobs for youth.
Use the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization as an opportunity to increase graduation rates. ESEA can serve as a vehicle for: increasing accountability at the secondary level to increase graduation rates; providing incentives to states and local districts to engage community and business in structuring educational pathways that align with 21st Century workforce needs; expanding resources and incentives for dropout recovery; and expanding supplemental supports and afterschool interventions, especially at the middle school level, to create a community-based continuum to support student success.
Make disadvantaged youth a priority population in pending education bills.The American Graduation Initiative within the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA) should make youth without a high school diploma among the priority populations for service, as well as encourage local collaborations among community colleges, workforce, business and community to develop pathways to put youth on track to postsecondary success.
Read CLASP's Federal Policy Recommendations for 2010.