EDUCATION
02/07/2012 01:43 pm ET Updated Apr 08, 2012

Philadelphia High School Dropouts And The Job Market: No Diploma, No Job

This piece comes to us courtesy of a partnership between the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, WHYY/NewsWorks, American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Like almost 14 million other Americans, Monica Reyes is looking for work.

"Macy's, Walmart, Kmart, Sears, Friday's, Outback," said Reyes, ticking off her list of recent unsuccessful job applications.

A sluggish economy has made finding work difficult for people from all walks of life. Nationally, the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent. Four people compete for every job.

Few of them will have a tougher time finding work than Reyes.

Listen to more of Monica's story in this radio feature from reporter Benjamin Herold:

06BHDROPOUT by erikao

For starters, last year, she was shot. "Monica Reyes" is not her real name. The incident has yet to make its way through the courts, and Reyes continues to fear for her safety. As a result, the Notebook/NewsWorks has agreed to use a pseudonym in this story.

In addition, Reyes, 20, hails from Kensington, where jobs are scarce and trouble is commonplace. Sixty years ago, the area was a vibrant manufacturing hub. Now, it's a graveyard of abandoned factories and home to one of the largest illegal drug markets in the region.

"Growing up in that neighborhood, I went through war," said Reyes matter-of-factly.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to Reyes' finding work is her failure to finish high school.

In Kensington and Eastern North Philadelphia, the unemployment rate for young adult dropouts is close to 50 percent.

While staggering, that number only begins to tell the story. Roughly 1,500 of the 3,000 or so dropouts aged 20-24 in this part of the city are not even trying to find work and are therefore not counted in unemployment statistics.

That means that only one in four young adults without a high school diploma in Kensington/Eastern North Philly has a job. Citywide, it's about one in three.

"There's a period of eight or ten years where a lot of decisions really come together and set your life path," said Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy (CLMP) at Drexel University, which conducted an analysis of labor market outcomes for youth for the Notebook/NewsWorks.

Harrington called the situation "just disastrous."

Mayor Nutter has made reducing the city's high school dropout rate a priority. In 2011, for the first time in memory, the city's four-year high school graduation rate inched above 60 percent.

But citywide, the youth labor market is still in the tank, especially for dropouts.

Only 55 percent of all 20-24-year-olds in Philadelphia have a job. For those who have left school without a diploma, that number drops to 35 percent.

This piece has been truncated. To read the rest of the story, and other pieces in the "Focus on Dropouts and Jobs: A Neighborhood Story" package, visit The Notebook.

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