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.