Growing up can be hard. Without a stable home, positive role models and tools for success, many young Americans fall behind their peers and experience a rocky transition to adulthood. Today, about one in eight individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor attending school. Others suffer from poor health conditions that hinder their ability to develop physically or socially.
Such issues not only affect young people later in life, but they also prove detrimental to society as a whole. According to a report from Mission: Readiness, for instance, 71 percent of young adults today are ineligible to join the U.S. military due primarily to a lack of basic academic skills, criminal records or health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Research shows that environments where such problems are most prevalent often increase an adolescent's risk of adverse outcomes, including economic hardship, early pregnancy and violence, especially in adulthood.
Idleness and social disconnection are among the biggest problems for at-risk youths today. For advice on overcoming such challenges, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the key questions.
Professor Daniel Keating
What can state and local policymakers do to reduce the number of rural youth who are disconnected from school and work?
An important first step is to recognize that the disconnection of rural youth is both more severe and different from the pattern for urban youth. The most recent statistics from Measure of America show that the percent of rural youth aged 16-24 years, who are neither in school nor working, is above 20%, compared with a national average of about 12%. Although some of the reasons for this disconnection are similar across all youth in the U.S., including limited educational and career skills, rural youth often have more limited employment opportunities close to where they and their families live. An additional challenge is that some of the effective programs to draw youth back into education and work are difficult to mount when the target population is geographically dispersed.
State and local policymakers need to build on and integrate resources that are already available in rural areas. Innovative local programs can help to establish closer links between educational institutions -- both secondary and post-secondary (especially the community college system) -- and employers who have a need for well-trained individuals. The evidence is clear that certificate programs open a number of doors to the world of work, and can effectively combine developmental education that brings core academic skills to a necessary level, training in specialized skills in areas desired by local employers that can lead to certification, and the “soft skills” that enable youth to succeed in the real world of work.
What is driving the higher levels of “disconnection” among minority youth?
For minority youth who are disconnected -- at a much higher proportion than for whites (12%), including 14% of Hispanic, 19% of Black, and 24% of Native American youth --, we need to recognize that the problem is multi-faceted. Similar to other disconnected youth, the lack of education and career skills is central, and for many of them, this is linked to having grown up in economically disadvantaged homes, neighborhoods, and schools.
This pattern of early life adversity has other consequences, including difficulties with self-regulation and “stress dysregulation” that I explain in detail in my recent book, “Born Anxious.” There are, however, a number of effective programs that can integrate the needed services in developmental education, skills training, including “soft skills” of collaboration, essential to contemporary career success. Owing to the burden of toxic stress in early life, additional elements will be important, including mental health services, that address problems that make it difficult for some of these youths to benefit from this programming.
Read the full article and expert responses from Professor Keating at WalletHub.