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Study: Underutilized Young Adults Cost Society Trillions

By guest blogger Jackie Zubrzycki

The Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions just released a report called "The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth", in which they analyze the social and taxpayer burdens of "Opportunity Youth"—16-24-year-olds who are "not investing in their human capital or earning income" by working or being educated. They estimate that 3.4 million Americans in this age bracket are "chronic opportunity youth", while an additional 3.3 million are "under-attached" (occasionally or partially engaged in the workforce or school). These 6.7 million students account for 16% of the total U.S. population in this age range.

Henry M. Levin and Rachel Rosen of Columbia Teachers College and Clive Belfield of CUNY's Queens College look into the lost earnings, lower economic growth, and higher government spending that result from this trend. They calculate that the taxpayers will lose approximately $1.6 trillion over the lifetime of this cohort, or $234,680 per youth, while the social costs will amount to $4.7 trillion, or $704.020 per youth. Opportunity youth are likely to make almost $400,000 less over the course of their careers than the average worker.

The factors that lead young people to leave the workforce or school vary by demographic, but the lagging economy has played a factor in the increase in the number of opportunity youth. Only 50% of young adults have a job, down from 57% in 2008, and only about a third of African-American youth are employed.

Levin, Rosen, and Belfield don't offer recommendations for re-engaging opportunity youth, but write that by "understanding the magnitude and reasons for youth who are not participating in these activities, we will be better able to consider ways of incorporating this group more fully in society."

Many young people are clearly not making a smooth transition from school into the workforce. What are schools doing to support this cohort?

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