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'Disconnected' Youth Costing $93.7 Billion Annually

From guest blogger Kimberly Shannon

A new report shows that 17 percent—or 5.8 million—of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor in school. The report, "One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas," was released this week by Measure of America, an initiative of the Social Science Research Council. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey of 2010, the study breaks down figures on these "disconnected youth" in the nation's largest cities.

Phoenix had the highest rate of disconnection, with 19 percent, while Boston had the lowest, with 9 percent. The national average was 14 percent. Disconnection was usually found among youth in cities with high rates of adult disconnection. Other key findings include a swell in disconnected youth by more than 800,000 from 2007 to 2010, which the study attributes to the Great Recession. Additionally, a great disparity was found among various racial groups; the rate of disconnection among African Americans was 22.5 percent, while the national rate was 14.7 percent. There was a less dramatic gender gap, with young men showing slightly more disconnection than young women.

A more concentrated look at each area revealed that more than 1 in 4 African American young people are disconnected in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Detroit, and Phoenix. Pittsburgh had the greatest disparity between African Americans (at 26.3 percent) and whites (at 9.4 percent). In Phoenix, although it had the highest rate of disconnection, the rate of white youth disconnection is lower than the national disconnection rate for all youth. Boston had one of the highest rates for Latinos. Additionally, many metro areas had wide disparities within them—some parts of Long Island, for example, had a rate of 3.7 percent, while the South Bronx had a rate of 35.6 percent.

Authors Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, co-directors of Measure of America, emphasize that in 2011, youth disconnection cost taxpayers $93.7 billion in government support and lost tax revenue. Much of this cost could be prevented, they say, by investing in higher-quality schooling. "One of the biggest reasons that kids often [cite for dropping out of school] is that they didn't see the point of it," said Lewis. "They didn't see it leading to possible jobs." Youth disconnection also leads to higher rates of public dependency, crime and incarceration, and poor physical and mental health, Lewis notes in an article in the Detroit Free Press.

The authors also recommend learning from such "affluent democracies" as Finland, Germany, and Norway, which have a variety of pathways for students to bridge between school and career. "There's a tendency [in the United States] to provide only the 4-year college information to kids in high school, thereby giving the message that anything else is second best," said Lewis. The report suggests offering more robust postsecondary certificates or associates degree programs. "In the next five years," she added, "more than 29 million job openings will need to be filled by workers with some college or a certificate, but not necessarily a 4-year degree."

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