In Focus: Youth of Color

Mar 30, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

In 2016, Key Wins for Justice-Involved Youth, but More Work Ahead

By Andrea Amaechi

In the juvenile justice world, 2016 started off with significant wins for young people. President Obama took landmark executive action forbidding solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court made a previous ruling retroactive—affirming that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles are cruel and unusual punishment and violate the 8th amendment of the Constitution. These actions recognize the vulnerability of youth in penal institutions and that they have lesser culpability than adults for their crimes because of their brain development.

Following these positive developments from the executive and judicial branches, opportunities remain for Congress to follow suit. Bills related to community-based services for justice-involved youth; education and workforce development for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals; and sentencing reform are waiting in Congress to be moved. Proposed legislation includes:

These policies would especially have a tremendous impact on the educational attainment, employment prospects, and well-being of youth of color— particularly African American youth— who experience disparate involvement with the justice system at all levels of contact, and the disparities grow at almost every step. In 2010, African Americans comprised 17 percent of all youth ages 10-17, but accounted for 31 percent of all juvenile arrests. They are more likely to be referred to juvenile court than are white youth, are more likely to be processed rather than diverted, are more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, and are more likely to be sent to secure confinement.

Ultimately, our aim should be to minimize the number of youth who fall into the juvenile justice system in the first place, and a growing entry point to prison is the school. Reforming school and district suspension and expulsion policies, reducing law enforcement and police presence in schools, and investing in support staff—including guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists—is a great place to start. For youth who already have justice system involvement, these actions could prevent further arrests, especially for youth of color who disproportionately experience out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

For youth who are on probation or parole, strong partnerships between the courts, juvenile and adult justice agencies, and education and workforce development system are key to successfully placing and retaining youth in education and employment pathways. All of these federal bills could promote these partnerships by offering funding streams that can be leveraged. For example, Second Chance Act funds bring together the justice system and workforce development systems in some communities. And restoration of Pell grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals would incentivize postsecondary institutions to develop collaborative programs with penal institutions. Community-based interventions such as the youth opportunity movement have proved to reduce high school dropout, increase Pell grant receipt, boost employment rates, and reduce crime and juvenile delinquency.

The actions of President Obama and the Supreme Court will make a big difference for youth and young adults who are confined in penal institutions. For the significant numbers of youth who are court-involved and in the community, policies aimed at promoting their education, workforce preparation, and employment will go a long way towards unlocking doors of opportunity, ensuring that they can realize their potential, successfully remain in the community, and avoid future arrests or deeper involvement with the justice system. 

Feb 26, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Report Shows Significance of Summer Youth Employment

By Kisha Bird and Clarence Okoh

For many young people, early work experience is a touchstone on the path to continuous gainful employment. A new JP Morgan Chase report, Expanding Economic Opportunity for Youth through Summer Jobs, highlights the benefits of strategic investments in summer employment for low-income young people and suggests strategies for connecting more youth to these opportunities, which help them build skills and earn credentials to improve long-term economic success.

Far too many youth are economically insecure. Children and young adults experience the highest levels of poverty in the United States (21.1 percent and 19.7 percent respectively). Among them, children and young adults of color are disproportionately affected. Young adults, particularly youth of color, also experience the highest levels of unemployment. Along with these disparities, summer employment has declined 37 percent for teens over the last twenty years. In 2015, just 34 percent of teens had access to these opportunities.

According to research, teens who work are 86 percent more likely to be employed in the next year and older youth are almost 100 percent more likely to be employed if they worked more than 40 weeks in the previous year. Summer employment can also contribute to reduced involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice system as well as improved school attendance and educational outcomes, especially for those at risk of dropping out.

The report identifies four key findings that could help us design sustainable, systemic solutions that expand economic opportunity through summer employment, including:

  • Boosting skills-building for youth through scaling up models that emphasize year-round employment and connections to career education training and work experiences and other technical training opportunities.
  • Expanding and strengthening private sector engagement.
  • Expanding and tailoring services to youth who experience unique barriers to employment including youth of color and opportunity youth.  
  • Improving coordination with local workforce systems.

There are many challenges to connecting youth to quality summer work experiences, including funding, having adequate systems and infrastructure, and business and industry engagement. However, as highlighted in the report, many communities are pioneering innovative solutions that help serve young people. Through leadership and sustained investment from elected officials, the private sector, policymakers at all levels of government, and—most importantly—youth themselves, we can realize this pathway to economic opportunity.

Jun 30, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

The Complex Challenges of Working Out-of-School Youth

By Andrew Mulinge

When teens are exposed to work through summer and year-round employment, internships, and service opportunities, they are far more likely to stay in school, graduate on time, and be consistently employed as adults. Youth who have been employed also earn higher wages in young adulthood. However, despite the long-term advantages of access to early employment, the challenges facing  youth ages 16 to 19 who are employed but not in school are often overlooked.

There are many factors that lead young people to drop out of school. Chief among them is family financial obligations. Working youth typically live in households that are more likely to have lower combined income than unemployed youth who have dropped out of school. Additionally, working youth’s households have less access to federal safety net programs that could help meet basic needs and reduce the pressure to drop out.

A recent report by the Urban Institute highlights the complex challenges faced by out-of-school youth who are employed. This population is mostly male, Latino and immigrant, and working in low-skill, low-paying jobs. The majority (63 percent) are working more than half the year, and 51 percent are working at least 40 weeks a year. The American Community Survey estimates that 60 percent of working youth ages 16 to 18 contribute over 10 percent of their household income.  Additionally, among working poor households, one-third exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) as a result of youth earnings.

Young people should not have to choose between staying in school and going to work to help support their families. Under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), states and communities have an opportunity to better address the workforce development and employment needs of low-income youth, particularly those who have dropped out of school. WIOA requires that 75 percent of youth funds be spent on out-of-school youth—an increase from 30 percent under the previous law. Furthermore, WIOA encourages states to develop career pathwaysthat integrate progressive levels of education and training. This will help working youth move into jobs that provide higher wages and more stable careers while increasing their education and skill attainment.

Losing out on a high school diploma has severe implications for youth’s future outcomes.  Looking forward, we must provide poor and low-income youth more opportunities to gain critical employment skills and earn wages while also strengthening the safety net to help their families meet basic needs.

Learn about CLASP’s resources on WIOA impacting youth and adults.

Read CLASP’s issue brief on employment for young men of color.

Read the Urban Institute’s report on working youth.

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