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'Disconnected Youth' Rates Have Declined Since the Great Recession, Principally Among Hispanics

First Posted: Aug 18, 2015 03:40 PM EDT
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Disconnected youth - teenagers and young adults between ages of 16 and 24 without educational or occupational commitments - are present in the U.S., but the rate of youth disconnection has fallen since the Great Recession, particularly among Hispanic populations.

As the Great Recession neared its end in 2009, approximately one-in-five Hispanics ages 18 and 19 were labelled as "disconnected youth," indicating individuals who neither worked nor attended school. However, economic recovery has helped to morph that percentage. While the number of young Hispanics who didn't attend school or work rested at 21 percent in 2009, it dropped to a historic low of 16 percent by 2014, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal government data.

Data shows that Hispanics alone saw the share of detached youth drop below recession-era levels. Comparably, 19 percent of blacks were disconnected youth and 12 percent of whites were disconnected youth in 2014, revealing that levels haven't changed much over the past decade for the two groups, who remain above pre-recession levels. The decline in disconnected youth within the Hispanic demographic can be attributed to a drop in unemployment rates for Hispanic youth, with rates dipping more quickly for Hispanics than their black or white counterparts.   

Between 2010 and 2014, the unemployment rate for Hispanics dropped from 32 percent to 19 percent among Hispanics ages 16 to 19. Also, today more Hispanics are enrolled in school, high school dropout rates are at a record low, and college enrollment gains have outstripped other groups.

There are 5,527,000 disconnected youth in America today, or one-in-seven young adults (13.8 percent), which is the population of Minnesota. Measure of America, a bipartisan nonprofit associated with the Social Science Research Council, published a report, "Zeroing In on Place and Race," which took a look at how disconnected youth are faring in America's cities.

Disconnection rates range from under 8 percent in the Omaha, Nebraska and Bridgeport, Connecticut to over 20 percent in Lakeland, Florida; Bakersfield, California; and Memphis, Tennessee. In the Chicago metro area, whites and Latinos are doing better than they are nationally, but blacks are doing significantly worse. In Boston, there's an overall low disconnection rate (8.2 percent), which is relatively good for white (6.8 percent) and black youth (9.8 percent), but not for Latinos (17.3 percent).

Youth disconnection rates for blacks (21.6 percent), Native Americans (20.3 percent) and Latinos (16.3 percent) are distinctly higher than rates for Asian Americans (7.9 percent) or whites (11.3 percent). Nonetheless, Latinos have seen a tremendous decline.

Disconnected youth are detached from work or school, and they may lack the knowledge and skills that lead to steady employment. According to data from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 14 percent of adults in the U.S. ages 18 and 19 are neither working nor in school. Young adults ages 18 and 19 are nearly four times as likely as youth 16 and 17 to be detached from school and work.

The Measure of America's research shows that racial segregation has dramatic but very different consequences for young people depending on their race.  In segregated metro areas, black youth tend to have higher rates of disconnection, whereas white youth tend to have lower-than-average rates of disconnection.

Increasingly over the past 30 years, young people have worked and enrolled in school.  The share of detached youth 18 to 19 was higher in 1985 than 2014, regardless of race. Approximately 17 percent of youth was detached in 1985 (14 percent of whites, 30 percent of blacks and 24 percent of Hispanics).

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