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Number of youths living on the margins is growing


EdSource - September 14, 2012

One in seven youths nationwide is neither at school nor at work, a percentage that has grown dramatically since the economic recession, according to a study released Thursday. Nationwide, 5.8 million young people, age 16 to 24, are living on the margins without even part-time jobs – an increase of 800,000 between 2007 and 2010.

The report ranks the 25 largest metropolitan areas, including five in California, based on the percentage of disconnected youth – defined as not working or attending school. One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas was done by Measure of America, a project of the nonpartisan Social Science Research Council.

Low-income, African American, and Latino youth are the most likely to be disconnected, including more than one in five African American youth. The statistics are even more alarming for African American young men: 26 percent are neither in school nor working, compared with 19 percent of teenage girls and young women. However, in the Latino community, more young women (20.3 percent) – many young mothers – than young men (16.8 percent) are disconnected.

Out of the 25 metro areas, Boston had the lowest share (9 percent) of disconnected youth, and Phoenix the most (18.8 percent). In California, the Riverside-San Bernardino area had the fourth highest percentage nationally – 16.9 percent. In Riverside-San Bernardino, that includes about one in five African American and Latino youth, and one in seven white young adults. The other California metro areas studied were Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco, which includes the East Bay Area.

“Of the five cities in California, half a million young people are unattached from these anchor institutions that give you your identity and purpose as well as money, education, and job skills,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, co-author of the study.

The report criticizes the loss of support since the 1970s of alternative pathways to jobs for those who do not want a four-year college degree. There are two parts to this problem, Burd-Sharps said: first, bringing back a vocational education system, and second, making sure the programs aren’t stigmatized.

“They are always seen as the lesser option,” she said. “The idea that anything other than a college degree is second-best is really damaging to kids whose aspirations and interests are not best served by a four-year college degree.” There are many jobs that will not go offshore and can provide stable income, she said, such as respiratory therapists and dental hygienists, which require an associate’s degree, or hair stylists, computer support specialists, and paramedics, which require training but no degree.

A third of the disconnected youth had dropped out of high school, close to half (46 percent) had only a high school diploma, more than a third (35 percent) were young mothers, and about one in eight (13 percent) had a disability. Low-income and minority youth lack the support systems necessary to navigate adolescence and young adulthood, Burd-Sharps emphasized.

The disconnected youth, the report discovered, were typically found in communities where the adults were suffering from high unemployment and low education achievement. And within metropolitan areas, the difference between one city and another was often quite stark. For example, in the San Francisco metro area, Berkeley has only 3.3 percent disconnected youth compared with 25 percent in low-income Oakland-Elmhurst. Similarly, in affluent West Los Angeles, only 3.5 percent of youth were disconnected compared with 25.1 percent in Watts.

Burd-Sharps said schools serving such low-income communities need to provide a strong curriculum and guidance counselors to help advise students of their multiple options. California regularly ranks last in the nation in the ratio of guidance counselors to students, and since the recession the state’s largest districts have laid off an additional 20 percent, according to a recentEdSource report.

“Not investing in solid guidance is a sure way to ensure they drop out,” she said. “Except for San Diego, all the California metro areas had dropout rates well above the national average. It’s going to cost California dearly in the future.”

San Diego ranked third of the 25 metro areas in terms of having the least disconnected youth,although still about one in nine (11.1 percent) young people was not in school or did not have a job. San Diego also had the fourth-lowest high school dropout rate of the metro areas studied. Again, the differences among neighborhoods were sharp, with almost one in five (18.9 percent) in Imperial Beach disconnected, compared with 3.6% in the affluent coastal communities of Torrey Pines and Mission Bay.

San Francisco ranked seventh overall, with a disconnection rate of 12.4 percent. Los Angeles, Dallas, and Baltimore together ranked 11th, 12th, and 13th, with 14.2 percent. Sacramento and Portland together ranked 14th and 15th, with a disconnection rate of 14.3 percent. Riverside-San Bernardino and Atlanta together ranked 21st and 22nd, with rates just under 17 percent.

The report looks to European countries that provide a strong high school education with opportunities for internships and apprenticeships in technical careers. The vocational system in Germany, for example, attracts more than half of high school students in 350 occupational apprenticeships. A recent poll in Finland found that 90 percent of respondents said they felt very positive about vocational education, often called career-tech in California.

In European countries, the private sector plays a pivotal role, offering apprenticeships, paid internships, and after-school training, Burd-Sharps said. Students are learning “not just technical skills, but the importance of showing up on time, perseverance – all of the soft skills that kids are struggling with today.”

The report did point to a program in California – Linked Learning – that is attempting to meet this need. An example of the Linked Learning approach is the California Partnership Academies – high schools or schools within a high school that focus on specific career paths and provide students with a curriculum, internship opportunities, and mentors that are connected to their area of interest, such as health care or business. These programs partner with local industry.

Overall, Burd-Sharps said, the report points to the need to address the disconnected communities where these youth live. “We need to enable families to give them the things they need to get connected,” she said. “We need to address the factors that drive poverty.”