As COVID-19 cases have surged in the United States, young adults face a weakening labor market and an uncertain educational outlook. Between February and June 2020, the share of young adults who are neither enrolled in school nor employed – a measure some refer to as the “disconnection rate” – has more than doubled, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by Pew Research Center. Most of the increase is related to job loss among young workers.
At the beginning of 2020, the share of Americans ages 16 to 24 who were “disconnected” from work and school mirrored rates from the previous year. But between March and April, the share jumped significantly, from 12% to 20%. By June 2020, 28% of youths were neither in school nor the workplace.
While not the highest on record, June’s 28% disconnection rate – which translates into 10.3 million young people – is the highest ever observed for the month of June, dating back to 1989 when the data first became available. This trend is one indicator of the difficulties young people are facing as they transition into adulthood during a global pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic will cause youth disconnection rates to spike dramatically. We estimate that the number of disconnected youth … could swell to almost one-quarter of all young people.
Kristen Lewis, Measure of America, June 2020
Skilled, credentialed, healthy, and engaged young people are essential to our community. However, a national report issued this week by Measure of America reports Louisville/Jefferson Co, KY-IN is 79th among the 100 largest cities in the US in the percentage of youth and young adults who are disconnected, out of school and work due to structural racism, poverty, homelessness, educational disruption, childhood trauma, and related challenges
In the 2019 Measure of America report, Louisville was 71of 100 and was the metro area with the largest racial or ethnic gap for disconnected youth with a black-white gap of 17.6 percentage points.
According to the analysis of Census data by Measure of America, this means approximately 17,100 (12.5%) of all 16- to 24-year-olds in Louisville Metro are considered neither in school nor working because of challenges they face. Additionally, more than 9,800 18 to 24-year olds in Louisville lack a high school diploma. These disruptions in education and employment overshadow the opportunities young people have to learn, to become financially independent, and to fully participate in our community.
The economic, health, and social crises in Louisville and across the US will increase the number of disconnected youth in our community. Overall, young people are more likely to have been working in COVID-affected service and retail sectors and account for nearly half of all workers paid minimum wages or less. They are less likely to have access to health insurance, paid sick leave, or savings to endure a recession. One in five young people in Louisville experienced poverty growing up and now report their incomes provide essential or the only support to the household.
Education and related supports that would be available in other economic crises are now severely disrupted. Students who struggled in high school are cut off not just from learning, encouragement, and social interaction but also disability services, meals, health care, psychological support, and a safe place to spend the day. The number of young people who will not return to school in the fall is unknown but expected to increase to unprecedented levels.
Adolescence—beginning with the onset of puberty and ending in the mid-20s—is a critical period of development during which key areas of the brain mature and develop. These changes in brain structure, function, and connectivity mark adolescence as a period of opportunity to discover new vistas, to form relationships with peers and adults, and to explore one’s developing identity. It is also a period of resilience that can ameliorate childhood setbacks and set the stage for a thriving trajectory over the life course.
Because adolescents comprise nearly one-fourth of the entire U.S. population, the nation needs policies and practices that will better leverage these developmental opportunities to harness the promise of adolescence—rather than focusing myopically on containing its risks. This report examines the neurobiological and socio-behavioral science of adolescent development and outlines how this knowledge can be applied, both to promote adolescent well-being, resilience, and development, and to rectify structural barriers and inequalities in opportunity, enabling all adolescents to flourish.
Autonomy is a necessary developmental milestone for adolescents and young adults. As they pursue greater autonomy, young people are also disposed biologically to begin taking greater risks, which for some youth can be particularly detrimental, such as unprotected sexual activity, truancy, or experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Not surprisingly, then, adolescence is a time during which rates of teenage pregnancy, running away, school dropout, and juvenile justice involvement increase. These, in turn, can result in disconnection from important institutions that help prepare youth for a successful transition to full independence.As recently as 2012, there were approximately 6.7 million youth in the United States who were not enrolled in school and who had been disconnected from the workforce for at least six months. That represents about 17 percent of the 16-to-24 age group nationally. Sometimes referred to as “opportunity youth” or “disconnected youth,” this population is among the hardest to reach with traditional social interventions. Yet, there is an emerging body of practice and literature that suggests these young people can be successfully reconnected to meaningful opportunities. Here’s what we know:
The population of disconnected youth is diverse.
The definition of disconnected youth can be misleading to the extent that it suggests dropout status and connection to the workforce are the only distinguishing factors of these young people. Several subgroups exist within the population of disconnected youth. A primary distinction can be made between “chronically” disconnected youth, who have not been in school or work since age 16, and “under-attached” youth, who have not completed college or maintained a job despite some intermittent connection to school and/or work. Beyond chronic disconnection and under-attachment, research suggests there are three distinct segments of disconnected youth: 1) young high school dropouts (ages 16-18); 2) older high school dropouts (ages 19-24); and 3) youth with diplomas or GEDs who are disconnected from postsecondary education and the labor market (ages 19-24). One can further distinguish youth who are close and far from graduation based on the number of credits still needed. Disconnected youth may also be distinguished by factors such as teen parenthood, immigration status, mental or physical disability, juvenile justice or child welfare involvement, and homelessness.
Disconnection from school and work is often associated with connection to public and other systems that present challenges and opportunities.
Disconnected youth are more likely than their peers to be involved in several systems that present obstacles to future success. Thankfully, these systems can also be leveraged to get youth back on track. For example, 63 percent of crimes committed by 16- to 24-year-olds are perpetrated by disconnected youth, leading to disproportionate representation in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Reforms like investing in alternatives to juvenile detention and approaches like Positive Youth Justice are gaining momentum and helping provide transformative opportunities for court-involved youth. Disconnected youth often face multiple barriers to sustained employment (e.g., lack of affordable transportation, child care costs, limited education). Even those who have been employed are likely to have held seasonal and low-wage jobs. Consequently, they are more likely to connect with informal labor markets. This pseudo-connection to the labor market may undermine motivation to re-engage in formal institutions of work or education. Understanding local informal labor markets and the needs these markets meet for disconnected youth can provide useful insights into how to recruit and support these youth. Finally, disconnected youth’s lack of education and employment leads a disproportionate number of them to draw on public assistance compared with their peers. While this assistance represents a short-term cost to society, it can also provide the lift needed for some disconnected youth to re-engage with school or work. At least, involvement with systems providing public assistance represents a point of connection between disconnected youth and more comprehensive efforts to support them.
“Connecting” disconnected youth could result in significant societal savings and individual benefits.
Improving prospects for disconnected youth requires coordinated solutions.
Because of the diversity of young people in the population of disconnected youth, communities seeking to address their needs would do well to craft approaches that integrate resources from across multiple stakeholder groups (e.g., schools, businesses, mental health, juvenile justice). For these young people, there are often multiple circumstances that might lead to disconnection. A parenting teen might drop out of school because she cannot afford child care and her school does not provide care for the child during the school day. A young adult with a GED might struggle to find and sustain employment because of a criminal record. These complex needs require multiple routes to reconnection, or “on-ramps,” that can only be provided through multi-sector partnerships (e.g., credit recovery programs, affordable child care for teen parents, data sharing between local employers and job training providers). In fact, the White House Council for Community Solutions has recommended cross-sector collaboration as a vital component of strategies to improve the prospects of disconnected youth. Research now exists that outlines elements associated with effective community collaboratives, and particularly those aimed at improving outcomes for disconnected youth.
Disconnected youth want to be connected.
Youth who are out of work and not in school are not lost causes. More than half of disconnected youth report that they are actively seeking employment and almost all of them say that having a good career is important to them. Likewise, completing college or obtaining a technical certification is important to most disconnected youth, though various barriers exist (e.g., money, transportation, application process). Given the appropriate opportunities and supports, these young people can achieve the success they envision for themselves. In fact, there are several pioneering organizations throughout the country that are creating meaningful opportunities for disconnected youth. There is a national movement to catalyze efforts, including organizations such as the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund aimed at delivering high-quality, coordinated support to disconnected youth across the country. The Social Innovation Fund is also supporting projects like youthCONNECT that are helping advance the field’s knowledge about what works to prevent and address disconnection. As results of these efforts become available, it will be important for the field to document the circumstances under which partnerships thrive and disconnected youth achieve positive outcomes.
Measure of America’s latest report, More Than a Million Reasons for Hope: Youth Disconnection in America Today, updates disconnected youth estimates for the country as a whole, for states, counties, and metro areas, and by gender and race and ethnicity. The report finds that the youth disconnection rate declined in the United States for the sixth year in a row, reaching a low of 11.7 percent in 2016.
However, the disconnection rate in Louisville/Jefferson County has increased from 10.9% (15,200 young people) in 2015 to 13.4% (18,800 young people) in 2016. Disconnectionrates vary by gender and race:
13.4% of all youth/young adults are out of school and work
13.9% of male youth/young adults are out of school and work
12.8% of female youth/young adults are out of school and work
27.7% of Black youth/young adults are out of school and work
10.5% of White youth/young adults are out of school and work
Disconnected—or opportunity—youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. This report is the first in Measure of America’s disconnected youth series to compare American and European metro areas, or to examine disconnection by different group characteristics such as motherhood, marriage status, disability, English proficiency, citizenship, educational attainment, institutionalization, and household composition.
Other key findings include:
A chasm of nearly 20 percentage points separates the disconnection rates of racial and ethnic groups.
An alarmingly high share of disconnected black boys and young men—nearly a fifth—is institutionalized, compared to just 0.3 percent of the overall population in that age group.
Disconnected young people are about two-and-a-half times as likely to be living family other than parents, about twice as likely to be living with a roommate, and eight times as likely to be living alone.
To learn more about these and other findings, see the full report. The most recent data on disconnected youth can also be found in our interactive tool.
Throughout 2017, the Coalition Supporting Young Adults has conducted research on the needs and goals of Louisville’s disconnected youth and young adults, as they describe them. More than 200 young people shared their stories, hopes and challenges in discussion groups, surveys and interviews. On Jan 8, 2018, CSYA will host a community conversation about the study’s results and the collective actions we can take to support them. We hope you’ll join us. Learn more…
November 8, 2017 – A team of partners, led by the Coalition for the Homeless, completed a 100-Day Challenge to accelerate efforts to end youth homelessness. This work was made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and private philanthropic partners. Rapid Results Institute (RRI) and HomeBase will offer technical support to the team, as they strive to meet their goals.
A 100-Day Challenge is a project where a community decides together on an incredibly ambitious goal: to end experiences of homelessness for a large number of young people in their community. With just 100 days to meet their goal, everyone from community leaders down to front-line workers are invited to do their work differently, change systems and innovate. In order to make great strides, communities must take on great challenges. The limited timeframe, the high-profile effort, and the intensive support from RRI results in communities progressing on three major tasks: problem solving, innovation, and partnership-building.
The Coalition for the Homeless’s work to understand youth homelessness, launched initially in 2013, soon led to the creation of the Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CSYA) and a community mapping of existing resources for homeless youth, including youth shelter; drop in centers; and education, employment and housing opportunities. This mapping process enabled CSYA and the community to identify gaps and potential opportunities to re-allocate existing resources. The collaborative work of CSYA has already supported the development of new resources including two new drop-in centers, a community-wide plan to reengage out of school youth and a professional development program to train a cohort of “connectors” who can quickly link homeless and disconnected youth. In addition to CSYA, a Youth Advisory Board, an Education/Employment Collaborative, and a Homeless Youth Committee consisting of 41 community leaders have also all been formed. These entities will be crucial as Louisville continues to address youth homelessness during the 100-Day Challenge.
“Our plan and implementation must not only address the housing needs of approximately 868 youth, but also create preventive solutions to keep the large number of precariously housed youth counted by JCPS not only out of the shelters, but in a safe setting that allows them to thrive,” says Natalie Harris, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless in Louisville. “One of our main focuses will be in creating transitional and rapid rehousing programs integrated with education and employment.”
About the Coalition for the Homeless
The Coalition for the Homeless, located at 1300 S. 4th Street, Suite 250, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission to prevent and eliminate homelessness in Louisville. The Coalition has a three-pronged approach to this mission: advocacy, education, and coordination of their 31 member agencies that provide a variety of services to the homeless throughout the city. To learn more about how to support this work, become a mentor or hire a young person, go to Coalition for the Homeless website or Facebook page.
Recently released data from the U.S. Census estimate there are nearly 10,000 18 to 24 year olds in Jefferson County, KY without a high school diploma or GED.
This represents a significant decline in the percentage of young women without a high school credential from 2005 to 2015 (from 26.26% to 13.35%). However, the percentage of young men who have not completed high school declined only slightly over the same period, from 18.3% to 16.5%.
The UofL Human Trafficking Research Initiative, developed in 2015, is an interdisciplinary, community-engaged research partnership that includes faculty and graduate students from the University of Louisville, made up of the Kent School of Social Work, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Speed School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, and the Brandeis School of Law. The goal of the Initiative is to be a central source of research on human trafficking to inform the decisions made by those who contact victims, survivors, and perpetrators of human trafficking including law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, medical services, and social services.
How are victims identified?
One of the first aims of the Initiative is to work with community partners to more
effectively identify victims of sex trafficking in our community. It can be difficult to identify victims due to general lack of public awareness, as well as a lack of awareness, or reluctance, of many exploited children to identify themselves as victims. In order to address these challenges and provide targeted services, the Initiative is launching a sex
trafficking prevalence study of youth and young adults who are most at-risk in our
What is the YES study?
Phase 1 of the YES study is currently launching in city of Louisville. The proposed study is based on Arizona’s successful YES prevalence study, which has been updated to include Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questions. The Kentucky YES study will be conducted in three phases to include homelessness/runaway youth, justice-involved youth, and child welfare-involved. Youth and young adults aged 12-25 will be invited to complete the 10-minute survey, which asks questions about drug/alcohol use, family history, childhood trauma, mental and medical diagnoses, sexual exploitation, and service use. Participants will receive a $5 gift card and a resource guide as part of their participation in the study.
Why initiate this type of study?
The purpose of the study is to determine the prevalence of sex trafficking among youth and young adults in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Preliminary research obtained from
Arizona’s YES (Youth Experiences Survey) found of those surveyed, 35% of homeless
young adults identified as being a sex trafficking victim, with LGBTQ young adults
reporting higher rates of sex trafficking versus non-LGBTQ young adults.
The data from the Kentucky YES study will be published and shared statewide, to assist with the development of targeted, trauma-informed programs, to aid in the development of funding opportunities (e.g., collaborative grant proposals), and to highlight the prevalence of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of our most vulnerable youth populations.
How can you help?
If you are an organization that serves at-risk young people in the greater Louisville
community, and you are interested in being a potential survey site, please contact: