Raising the Visibility: Advancing Strategies to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth
By Kisha Bird
In American communities - large, small, urban, rural, and suburban -- millions of young people are isolated from opportunities to realize their potential and participate fully in our society. An astounding 6.7 million youth ages 16 to 24 are disconnected from education, the labor market, and opportunity. America's youth are experiencing depression-era levels of unemployment, and we are losing significant ground with segments of our minority youth population. In particular, low-income young men of color are disproportionately affected by the current labor market, with fewer than one in five African-American and Latino young men having a job last month.
The Obama Administration has shown considerable leadership in this arena through the White House Council for Community Solutions and the Interagency Work Group on Disconnected Youth. The Department of Education's recent Request for Information on Strategies for Improving Outcomes for Disconnected Youth is also timely and necessary. In response to the request for information, CLASP submitted a set of comprehensive recommendations that we hope will lead to:
- continued visibility to the situation of this often forgotten segment of the youth population,
- advanced policies that support dropout recovery and the reengagement of youth in high-risk situations, and
- multiple federal funding streams that can create robust interventions to put youth on track to education, career, and life success.
It is important that these recent efforts are not one-time activities, but are launching points that will influence a broader vision of how federal policy can and should undergird local policy and program approaches for youth.
The good news is that for decades the federal government devoted much needed resources to determine which strategies best support young people in reaching and realizing their potential- connecting them to pathways that help them to earn their diplomas and post-secondary credentials, work experience, jobs, employment opportunities, and opportunities for civic and leadership engagement . And while much of the funding at the federal level has receded, we do know that strategic and thoughtful interventions can make a difference in improving the education and labor market outcomes for high-risk youth in high-poverty communities. It requires comprehensive and holistic service delivery, community partnerships, education innovation, and systems integration. Research has demonstrated that this approach can yield multiple positive outcomes for youth - including a reduction in incidence of juvenile arrests and dropout rates; and increased labor force participation and Pell grant receipt.
There is so much at stake right now -- for the nation, our economy, and youth themselves. CLASP's comments build on a decade of policy work at the national, state, and local levels and we hope that they will fuel forward-thinking and bold policy strategies that will make a real difference in the lives of America's young people.