In Focus

Oct 17, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Opportunity Youth Take Lead in Recommendations for Increasing Opportunity and Decreasing Poverty

By Andrew Mulinge

Earlier this month, youth and young adults from the National Council of Young Leaders (NCYL) convened in Washington for an event aimed at addressing their recommendations for increasing opportunity and decreasing poverty. A panel of young leaders from across the country discussed various aspects  of NCYL’s mission, which is focused on college affordability, justice system reform, and employment opportunities.

The young adults addressed themselves as opportunity youth, which is defined in a Civic Enterprises report as “youth who may have dropped out of high school or college and been unable to find work; may have been involved in the criminal justice system; may have mental or health conditions that have inhibited their activities; or may have care-giving responsibilities in their families.” Currently, there are an estimated 6.7 million opportunity youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Opportunity youth face many challenges today, including high unemployment, disproportionate incarceration rates among racial backgrounds, or low high school graduation rates. The young leaders from NCYL discussed how they have taken initiative to address these critical issues at an important moment in our nation’s history. It is imperative for our youth to be engaged in formulating solutions for the issues that affect their communities.

The young leaders used personal testimonies to address the six areas of their agenda:  

  • Expand effective comprehensive programs that directly benefit youth in areas such as job training, pathways to college, and mentorship. According to a Civic Enterprises study, investing and expanding current federal programs of $6.4 billion a year would have implications for providing positive social benefit worth $350 billion. In addition to the financial returns, there would be many benefits to communities as a result of increased youth engagement.
  • Increase participation of low-income people in national service programs. Inclusion of low-income people of all ages in programs such as AmeriCorps, National Civilian Community Corps, Senior Corps, and similar organizations is an effective way to engage the communities with the greatest need.  When young people engage in service in communities that are representative of their experiences and backgrounds, youth are empowered to take ownership of their own communities and inspire others to do the same. This builds communities’ human capital and strengthens their institutions.
  • Invest in internships. Several panelists discussed their experiences interning in various fields.  Internships are critically important, particularly for opportunity youth who most struggle to find employment.  In addition to the benefits of closing the unemployment gap among youth, internship programs often are a transition or trial employment opportunity that can lead to full employment.  Internships also open doors to mentorship opportunities, another key recommendation being advanced by the young leaders.
  • Increase all forms of mentoring. In many communities with opportunity youth, access to individual mentors is scarce. The young leaders seek to expand mentoring programs to help create more informal and formal mentoring relationships. These programs give opportunity youth access to crucial guidance from mentors who have similar backgrounds and have overcome similar obstacles.
  • Make postsecondary education more affordable by protecting and expanding pathways to higher education. For youth like Shanice Clowney, a panelist and college graduate, having alternative ways of paying for college is crucial during matriculation. A recent Wall Street Journal report shows that the class of 2014 is the most indebted class ever, with $33,000 of debt per student on average nationally.  For any millennial—and particularly those who are already financially disadvantaged—college has become more difficult to pay for than ever before. The young leaders recommend providing year-round Pell Grants to students, providing funding for more educational award opportunities, and disallowing predatory or excessively burdensome loans.
  • Reform the criminal justice system. The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Additionally, although only 30 percent of Americans are of color, they make up 60 percent of the entire prison population. Communities concentrated with people of color and poverty face higher risks of incarceration. Individuals released after incarceration struggle to find employment, which often leads to high levels of recidivism. Expanding second-chance and re-entry programs for all offenders is one of the ways the young leaders aim to achieve their goals.

The upcoming implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act offers state and local communities, along with their nonprofit partners, to advance many of the solutions presented by the young leaders.  WIOA can foster new and expanded opportunities to re-engage out-of-school youth and help them as they transform their lives. To read more about the report, click here.

Learn more about CLASP’s work on reconnecting youth>>




Oct 8, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Releases Summary of Key Opportunities in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

In July 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress—was signed into law by President Obama.  WIOA is the first update to the nation’s core workforce training programs in the 16 years since passage of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  A lot has changed since 1998—and our workforce system hasn’t kept up.  Low-skilled and low-income workers face more barriers than ever to securing an education and getting a good job.

The new law recognizes the need for a new playbook and reauthorizes the nation’s employment, training, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation programs created under WIA.  WIOA improves connections to employment and training opportunities that lead to economic prosperity for workers and their families.

A new WIOA summary from the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at CLASP details provisions that strengthen existing workforce development and adult education programs in four primary ways that can benefit adults and youth with barriers to economic success. The new law:

  1. Increases the focus on serving the most vulnerable workers—low-income adults and youth who have limited skills, lack work experience, and face other barriers to economic success;
  2. Expands education and training options to help participants access good jobs and advance in their careers;
  3. Helps disadvantaged and unemployed adults and youth earn while they learn through support services and effective employment-based activities; and
  4. Aligns planning and accountability policies across core programs to support more unified approaches to serving low-income, low-skilled individuals.

These developments create an opportunity for leaders and advocates in states and local communities to rethink, reshape, and expand workforce systems, policies, and practices that are grounded in research and experience to improve the education and employability of low-income people. A great deal of work remains to implement WIOA.  Federal regulations must be written, new planning and accountability processes must be put in place, and new performance metrics must be defined.

In the end, it's state and local decision makers and their private sector and community partners who will determine what the real impact of the law will be on economic success for low-income people.  CLASP is eager to partner with states and communities to help them leverage opportunities created by WIOA.

Read CLASP'S WIOA summary>>

Access other resources on WIOA and workforce development  >>

Aug 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

KIDS COUNT Report Underscores Need for Holistic Approach to Supporting Child Well-being

By Andrew Mulinge

The 25th edition of a key report tracking the well-being of children highlights the critical importance of taking a holistic approach to addressing the needs of children. The 2014 annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on 16 indicators of child well-being that fall under four categories: 1) economic well-being; 2) education; 3) health; and 4) family and community Each area of focus in the report complements the others. So, to implement change in the overall well-being of children and youth, there needs to be substantive efforts to address issues related to public health, socioeconomics, education, and community development. 

Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone have yielded positive results by using a holistic methodology that includes providing educational and social services, stabilizing families, preventing homelessness, and promoting healthy lifestyles throughout Harlem.  More cities and states across the country can benefit greatly from addressing their children’s well-being through a holistic lens.

Considering the disproportionate outcomes for children and youth across several racial backgrounds, it is also imperative to address the well-being of children and youth through a racial lens. Despite gains during recent decades for youth of color, African-Americans, Latinos and American Indian youth continue to experience negative outcomes that are at times much higher than the national average, and particularly higher than non-Hispanic Whites.

Those living in low-income communities consistently underperform in the classroom. The report highlighted categories such as eighth grade math proficiency, fourth grade reading proficiency and on-time graduation rates to measure academic performance. Those living in areas of higher poverty were more likely to have negative outcomes on academic measurements.

However, the report showed encouraging data over the course of the last several years on high school graduation, which can lead to higher paying jobs and a higher standard of living.  Today’s high school students are graduating on time at an 81 percent rate, which is an all-time high and also a significant 8 percent improvement from the 2005-2006 school year. Although these are encouraging numbers, the disproportion across racial groups is still explicitly shown in the data year after year.

Children whose parents lack high school diplomas and live in single-parent households are not as likely to have access to health insurance. The report, however, found another encouraging trend:  the education level of parents has been steadily increasing over the past several years. In 1990, 22 percent of children lived in families with parents who did not have a high school diploma; by 2012, the figure had declined to 15 percent.  

Although the report shows data that is discouraging and some data that signify areas of growth, the bottom-line is that more can still be done to circumvent the ongoing racial and socioeconomic disparities that contribute to children’s overall well-being. The more we as a nation invest in all areas of the community, the more we will begin to see the outcomes we desire for our children.  

Read more about the KIDS COUNT report here.

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