Teens Ages 16-19 Not in School and Not Working

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Learn More About Disconnected Youth

Measures of Disconnected Youth on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org reports the percentage of youth ages 16-19 who are neither employed (full or part time) nor enrolled in school (full or part time). Data are available for:
Teens who are not employed include those who are not working but looking for work and those who are neither working nor looking for work; as a result, these data may differ from estimates of "idle youth" which exclude teens looking for work.
Disconnected Youth
College Eligibility
Homelessness
High School Graduation
Math Proficiency
Juvenile Arrests
Unemployment
Pupil Support Services
Reading Proficiency
School Attendance and Discipline
School Climate
Teen Births
Why This Topic Is Important
Sometimes referred to as 'disconnected youth' or 'opportunity youth,' older teens who are neither in school nor working for long periods are more likely to experience poor health, lower incomes, unemployment, and incarceration as adults (1, 2). Because engagement in school or the workforce is critical to the transition from adolescence to adulthood, detachment from those settings—especially detachment that spans several years—can impede development of the knowledge and skills required to lead productive, self-sufficient adult lives (1, 2).

The effects also extend beyond the individual; in 2013 alone, the burden of disconnected youth on U.S. taxpayers was estimated at about $27 billion in direct costs related to incarceration and public assistance, in addition to indirect costs related to lost earnings and tax revenue (1). Further, recognizing the need for more skilled workers in order to compete in today's economy, the significant number of youth disconnected from education and employment could have serious, long-term social and economic implications (1, 2, 3).

Factors that place teens at increased risk for becoming disengaged from school and work include growing up in families with low economic resources or educational attainment, having a disability, living in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation, being involved in the foster care or criminal justice system, and having caregiving responsibilities at home, among others (1, 2, 3, 4). Nationwide, African American, American Indian, and Latino youth are more likely than their white or Asian/Pacific Islander peers to be neither employed nor enrolled in school, as are youth who are not U.S. citizens, when compared with U.S.-born youth (1, 4, 5).
For more information on disconnected youth, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Lewis, K., & Burd-Sharps, S. (2015). Zeroing in on place and race: Youth disconnection in America's cities. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://www.measureofamerica.org/youth-disconnection-2015

2.  White House Council of Economic Advisers. (2015). Economic costs of youth disadvantage and high-return opportunities for change. Retrieved from: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/mbk_report_final_update1.pdf

3.  Jobs for the Future. (2015). Tapping new pools of talent: Preparing opportunity youth to help fill the skills gap. Retrieved from: https://www.jff.org/publications/tapping-new-pools-talent

4.  Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2019). 2019 KIDS COUNT data book: State trends in child well-being. Retrieved from: https://www.aecf.org/resources/2019-kids-count-data-book

5.  Child Trends Databank. (2018). Disconnected youth. Retrieved from: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=youth-neither-enrolled-in-school-nor-working
How Children Are Faring
In 2018, an estimated 6.5% of California teens ages 16 to 19 were neither employed nor enrolled in school, down from a 12-year high of 8.7% in 2011. Rates of youth disconnection vary widely at the local level, with 2013-2017 estimates for regions with data ranging from 3.1% to 11.5% across counties and from less than 0.1% to more than 25% across school districts.

Policy Implications
In recent years, state and federal policymakers increasingly have focused on issues surrounding youth disconnection, recognizing the substantial number of teens and young adults neither working nor in school (1, 2, 3). If these young people—often called 'opportunity youth'—are not re-engaged, they may struggle with unemployment and underemployment as adults (1, 2). For society at large, youth disconnection contributes to significant costs related to having an uneducated and unskilled workforce, increased crime and incarceration, and a greater need for public assistance (1, 2). Youth disconnection disproportionately affects young people of color, those who are homeless, living in poverty, or in underserved communities, those with disabilities, and those in the foster care and criminal justice systems (1, 2, 3).

Policy solutions range from those that prevent youth from becoming disconnected in the first place to those that re-engage disconnected youth with school, work, and community. Policy and program options that could prevent or reduce youth disconnection include:
  • Supporting research-based strategies—such as home-visiting programs for at-risk families, quality preschool, and safe, supportive K-12 schools—that ensure all children, from an early age, have access to quality education and stable, caring environments (1)
  • Ensuring that struggling students graduate from high school by promoting access to support services during and after school, such as counseling and mentoring, and supporting dropout prevention programs and flexible learning environments that allow students to attain credits through non-traditional paths; also, eliminating barriers (e.g., cost) to GED attainment (1, 3, 4)
  • Supporting high school, community college, and community-based career and technical pathways that link youth to internships, modernized apprenticeships, life skills classes, and job placement (1, 3, 4)
  • Expanding employment opportunities for youth by implementing mechanisms that provide incentives to employers that hire and train disconnected youth (4)
  • Ensuring that taxpayer-funded local employment services, including workforce investment boards (WIBs), provide targeted, evidence-based job training, support, and employment opportunities for youth and young adults facing barriers to employment; also, ensuring that WIB membership includes individuals who understand and represent the interests of disconnected youth (3, 4)
  • Improving and supporting cross-sector community collaborations that implement integrated approaches to support at-risk and disconnected youth statewide, ensuring that new funding priorities and policies address the needs of these youth (1, 3, 4)
  • Promoting collaborative use of data across agencies to identify disconnected youth, better share information, track services, evaluate outcomes, and hold decision-makers accountable (1, 3)
  • Increasing the flexibility of funding streams and revising eligibility requirements for government programs so that disconnected youth can more easily access employment training, health and mental health services, and other support, without service disruptions (3)
  • Encouraging youth engagement and youth development programs—such as youth advisory councils, volunteer or community projects, and service learning—that allow youth to become active decision-makers in their own lives, take on leadership roles, and contribute to their communities (1, 4)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit Opportunity Nation and American Youth Policy Forum. Also see School Climate, High School Graduation, and Juvenile Arrests topics on kidsdata.org.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Lewis, K., & Burd-Sharps, S. (2015). Zeroing in on place and race: Youth disconnection in America's cities. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://www.measureofamerica.org/youth-disconnection-2015

2.  White House Council of Economic Advisers. (2015). Economic costs of youth disadvantage and high-return opportunities for change. Retrieved from: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/mbk_report_final_update1.pdf

3.  PolicyLink, & National Center for Youth Law. (2015). Advancing a policy agenda for California's opportunity youth. Retrieved from: https://www.chhs.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Committees/California-Child-Welfare-Council/Committee-Meeting-Information/after-child-development-youth/CA_Opportunity_for_Youth_Network_Memo.pdf

4.  Opportunity Nation. (n.d.). We got this: A call to action for youth employment. Retrieved from: https://opportunitynation.org/call-to-action-youth-employment
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Disconnected Youth