Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor working, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report warns of a future of chronic unemployment due to a continuing failure to educate and train America's youth in needed skills.
The most recent "Kids Count" report, one of the most widely cited surveys of how youth fare in the United States, found that young people aged 16 to 24 are facing serious barriers to successful careers as youth unemployment has reached its highest level since World War II. Only about half of young people in that age group held jobs in 2011, according to the report, titled "Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity."
The employment rate for teens between the ages of 16 and 19 has fallen 42 percent over the last decade: 2.2 million teens and 4.3 million young adults aged 20 to 24 are neither working nor in school. Of those without school or work, 21 percent -- or 1.4 million -- are young parents.
North Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota had the highest rates of employment among 20- to 24-year-olds. Laura Speer, one report's authors, told Minnesota Public Radio that early employment is key to future success.
"The thing that you got and I got from our very first job is mostly about how to work," Speer said. "How to be on a team, how to have a boss, how to show up on time. And those -- what are termed as 'soft skills' -- are things that are really critically important going forward."
Young adults are facing more competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs. Many lack the skill set required for available jobs. Still others face obstacles beyond their control, such as low-performing schools, a lack of working-adult role models and impoverished upbringings.
The report shows that lack of education, opportunity and connection to school or work has long-term implications for both the affected youth and society as a whole.The 1.4 million young adults who are not in school, are unemployed and have children can "perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of poverty" as they continue to fail to find work, the report states. (An earlier "Kids Count" report, released this summer and based on U.S. Census data, already showed that the portion of children living in poverty increased by nearly a third between 2000 and 2010.)
Described as disconnected youth, those who lack both jobs and a high school education are less likely to achieve financial independence and stability, and they can become a cost to taxpayers.
Of the 3.8 million students that start high school this year, a quarter won't receive a diploma, according to NPR. Those who don't finish school will earn $200,000 less than those who do over their lifetime, and $1 million less than a college graduate.
High school dropouts are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in the U.S. economy, according to Education Database, and a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S., contributing to a rising unemployment rate. Dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.
The "Kids Count" report stresses a need to offer multiple, flexible pathways to success for disconnected youth, and to find ways to reengage high school dropouts. Among the report's recommendations:
- National policymakers developing a youth employment strategy "that mobilizes public and private institutions together to tackle this issue."
- Greater coordination among financial supporters for youth assistance programs.
- Replication of successful efforts such as the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe in Battle Creek.
- Employers stepping up to offer "career pathways and jobs for young people."
The report is published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the largest private charitable organizations in the U.S. devoted to improving the lives of children.
“All young people need opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult,” Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement Monday. “Ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today’s economy must be a national priority, for the sake of their future roles as citizens and parents, the future of our workforce and the strength of our nation as a whole.”