Congress Shines a Light on Reconnecting Disconnected Youth: The RAISE UP Act Is Reintroduced

Jun 29, 2011

By Kisha Bird

In recent days, Congressional leaders reintroduced the RAISE UP Act (S. 1608/H.R. 3982) - a dropout recovery bill designed to help communities build a cross-systems approach to re-engage and support millions of youth who are being left behind.

More than 5 million American youth ages 16 to24 are not connected to education or the labor market.  And every year, three out of 10 high school students do not graduate on time. The employment prospects for youth are becoming even bleaker. Since May 2007, the teen unemployment rate has grown from 15.9 percent to 24.2 percent - a 52 percent increase. When race is factored, less than 15 percent of all African American teens have access to work. For low-income youth especially, this can have a devastating impact on their future. 

Disconnected and vulnerable youth face many day to day challenges, and drop out of school for a variety of causes. Many have to help their families make ends meet; some get pushed out of school for reasons ranging from disengagement to overreaching punitive expulsion policies; some struggle to balance academics and living in high-stress communities, and some just fall through the cracks.

To address this pressing policy issue, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown and Al Franken introduced the RAISE UP Act to direct funding to communities most in need and provide them with resources to help youth realize their full potential.  U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee and several other original co-sponsors introduced companion legislation in the house.  

The RAISE UP Act would support local systems to identify young people who have dropped out of high school and help them secure a secondary credential, a postsecondary credential, and a family- sustaining career. Youth would receive education services, workforce preparation, and wrap around supports.

There is not much talk in Washington these days on the impact the Great Recession has had on our most vulnerable youth.   Instead the talk is centered on the nation's growing deficit and reigning in domestic, discretionary spending.  While there are valid reasons to be concerned about our nation's long-term debt, the nation must also focus on short- and long-term solutions that will ensure America remains economically competitive into the next century.  One of those short term solutions with long-term impact is investing in the education and employment of disconnected youth.  If we don't, we stand to lose the ingenuity and potential of a substantial segment of this generation, to lose the revenues that would come with their increased economic productivity, and to bear the cost associated with  increased dependency on social programs and criminal justice interventions.

The RAISE UP act is a great sign that there are still leaders that not only care about our youth but also understand the future economic and community implications of doing nothing.

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