5 Things to Know about Youth Not Employed or in School

Child Trends


teen boy

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 pregnancyrunning awayschool 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.

Nationally, unserved disconnected youth represent a devastating forfeiture of human potential and enormous financial costs (i.e., potential savings). Youth who do not finish high school earn less and subsequently pay significantly less in taxes than graduates. Further, they consume more public benefits and are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal acts. The estimated cohort of 6.7 million young people cited earlier resulted in a staggering cost of $93 billion to U.S. taxpayers in 2011. These are only economic costs-those that result directly in increased public expenditure or forfeiture, such as a decreased tax base or increased expenditure on prisons-and do not include social costs including reduced individual earnings and pain and suffering associated with crime victimization, among other things. Recent research estimates that each disconnected youth costs taxpayers about $236,000 over their lifetime and that the social costs are at least $704,000. When social factors are considered, the lifetime estimated cost of the current 6.7 million disconnected youth is $3.6 trillion.


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.

Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection

Author Anne Kim skillfully weaves heart-rending stories of young people navigating early adulthood alone, in communities where poverty is endemic and opportunities almost nonexistent. She then describes a growing awareness—including new research from the field of adolescent brain science—that “emerging adulthood” is just as crucial a developmental period as early childhood, and she profiles an array of unheralded programs that provide young people with the supports they need to achieve self-sufficiency.

A major work of deeply reported narrative nonfiction, Abandoned joins the small shelf of books that change the way we see our society and point to a different path forward.

The author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection (The New Press), Anne Kim, is a writer, lawyer, and public policy expert with a long career in Washington, DC–based think tanks working in and around Capitol Hill.

More information

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Intro to Reengagment Center Model

Thursday, June 4, 2020
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Lynn Rippy, YouthBuild Louisville
Lance Meeks, Tuscon AZ Reengagment Center
Jennifer Welch, Kentucky Youth Career Center

Reengagment Centers have been a strategy communities throughout the US have used to connect marginalized youth and young adults with education, employment, and needed services. They may look differently in each community, but generally reengagement centers are hosted by one or more “anchor” organizations coordinating outreach, assessments, case management, referrals, and follow-up services. Additional services are provided by partner organizations offering services like mental health counseling, peer supports, job readiness, mentoring, and supplies. 

In this webinar, we’ll learn about the Reengagement Center model, why the model fits in Louisville, and who is already (or could be) working to implement the model here.

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Social Justice Youth Development

Thursday, May 14, 2020
1:00 pm to 2:00 pm

Aishia A. Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences, University of Louisville


Social Justice Youth Development (SJYD) is an approach to youth development that aims to work against systemic oppression experienced by youth and their communities. This one-hour webinar will provide a brief introduction to SJYD and the critical role it plays in youth development practice.


  • Identify key principles of the social justice youth development framework
  • Compare and contrast the social justice youth development framework with other prominent youth development frameworks and approaches
  • Demonstrate application of social justice youth development principles

Training for Education Advocates

Topic: Advocating for the Special Education Rights of Court-Involved Youth
Trainers: Claire Nilsen Blumenson and Tayo Belle with the School Justice Project

Session 1: Training for legal professionals
Thursday, January 16, 2020
12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Judicial Center, 700 W Jefferson Street, First Floor Training Rm
Information and registration: Maria Gurren

Session 2: Training for education and community-based professionals
Thursday, January 16, 2020
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Louisville Free Public Library, 301 York Street, Community Room
Information and Registration: Elizabeth Senn-Alvey

The School Justice Project (SJP) is a legal services and advocacy organization serving older students with special education needs who are involved in justice systems. Since 2013, SJP has been dedicated to ensuring that older (ages 17-22), court-involved youth with disabilities receive a quality education in the District of Columbia. By using special education legal advocacy in the juvenile and criminal contexts, SJP aims to increase access to education, decrease future court contact, and reshape the education and justice landscapes for older court-involved students with disabilities.

Since 2018, the School Justice Project has been working with legal and education advocates in Louisville and across the state to explore ways to strengthen the educational services for court-involved youth/young adults with special education needs. The results of their work are tangible but there is much to do together.  Please join us for this important opportunity to build your advocacy skills and to add your ideas on how to improve education outcomes for struggling and marginalized youth.

Youth Homelessness Resources

The Coalition for the Homeless has released a flyer describing the HUD funded services in Louisville to end youth homelessness. Help spread the word to young people and partners about these important new opportunities.


TAYLRD provides services to youth (18-24) who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Case managers assist youth in developing a housing plan, which focuses on their unique housing needs. Case managers also assist youth in securing documents, benefits, &/or referrals to community resources that would further support youth in meeting their goals. Youth can also meet with TAYLRD’s onsite physical and mental health staff and find support through our life skills groups, laundry service, meals, hygiene products, Wi-Fi, and computers.

Drop-in hours MonFri 2pm-5pm or by appointment. 1020 E. Broadway. | LOUISVILLE, KY 40204 | CENTERSTONE.ORG Main Phone Line: 502-690-4399 or call Michele Isham at 502-639-0547

Family Scholar House

The mission of Family Scholar House is to end the cycle of poverty and transform our community by empowering families and youth to succeed in education and achieve life-long self-sufficiency. Our YHDP project works with young adults aging out of the foster care system and provides comprehensive services and housing.


Home of the Innocents

Home of the Innocents’ Pathways HOME program provides services to young adults (ages 18-24) experiencing homelessness and their children. We provide direct housing assistance, case management, education and employment coaching, resources like our Dare to Care food bank, and Life Skills classes.


Kentucky Youth Career Center

  • Onsite GED program for ages 18 – 24
  • Links to employment opportunities
  • Occupational skills training
  • Workforce education
  • Internship Academy
  • College and employer tours
  • Career and education fairs
  • Workshops
  • Leadership development opportunities
  • Food pantry
  • Opportunity Shop Computer Lab
  • Access to Legal Aid

612 S. 4TH ST. | LOUISVILLE, KY 40202 | 502-574-4115 WEAREKYCC.ORG

St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul Louisville will serve young adults (aged 18-24) and their children in 24 units of transitional housing. Referrals to this housing will be made by the Common Assessment team. For more information, you can call 502-584-2480 or visit our website at svdplou.org.

Our main office is located at 1015-C S. Preston Street, Louisville, KY 40203. 1015-C S. PRESTON ST. | LOUISVILLE, KY 40203 | 502-584-2480 SVDPLOU.ORG

YMCA Safe Place

YMCA Safe Place provides street-based and drop-in center support to young adults 18-24 experiencing homelessness or unstable housing. We offer support for youth by providing access to day-time shelter, hygiene items, showers, a meal, clothing, and laundry as well as support in goal setting, skill development, and accessing community resources through case management, life skills groups, and resource referrals.

Drop in Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm; Tuesday from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm.


YouthBuild Louisville

YouthBuild Louisville and their partners provide services to low-income, homeless young adults (ages 18-24) including information on LGBTQ-friendly supportive services, education, employment, mental/physical health services, transportation, food, clothing, identification and social security card attainment, and enrollment in insurance. We also provide housing navigation and vouchers, housing case management and life skills development.


Number and Rate of Disconnected Youth Increases in Louisville




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. Disconnection rates 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.

Louisville Metro Community Centers

Louisville Metro operates 18 community centers, each offering a variety of amenities. Check out the services and programs at each location:

Berrytown (Home of Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation)
Camp Edwards
Cyril Allgeier
Flaget Senior Center
Shelby Park
Metro Arts Center
Molly Leonard Portland
Shawnee Arts & Cultural
Sun Valley
South Louisville
Wilderness Road Senior Center

National Youth Violence Prevention Week

Louisville Metro and dozens of community organizations and classrooms will be observing National Youth Violence Prevention WeekMarch 19th to March 23rd.

“The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness and to educate students, teachers, school administrators, counselors, school resource officers, school staff, parents, and the public on effective ways to prevent or reduce youth Violence. This week long national education initiative will involve activities that demonstrate the positive role young people can have in making their school and community safer.”

Everyone is invited to participate in this week to take a city-wide stand against youth violence and to elevate the many solutions to this challenge. Three easy steps to get involved:

  1. Review the NYVPW-ActionKit   and select from any of the suggested activities, develop your own activity during the week, or if you already have something going on that week, lift it up and connect it with #NYVPW, #LouYVPW.
  2. Use (and help get trending) the hashtag’s #LouYVPW and #NYVPW during that week for social media posts.
  3. Metro United Way has graciously agreed to host an on-line portal where everyone can also list their activities for #NYVPW. Use and share this link www.metrounitedway.org/report so that anyone who is participating can have their activity captured.

This is an exciting opportunity to lift up Louisville and to take a stand against violence.  For more information or support to participate during the week of March 19, contact the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

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