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 estimated 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
Homelessness
Pupil Support Services
School Climate
Juvenile Arrests
School Attendance and Discipline
Math Proficiency
Reading Proficiency
High School Graduation
College Eligibility
Teen Births
Why This Topic Is Important
Millions of youth and young adults in America are neither in school nor working (1). These young people—often referred to as 'disconnected youth' or 'opportunity youth'—are more likely to face long-term challenges in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, lower incomes, and unemployment (1, 2). Because engagement in school or the workforce is critical for the transition from adolescence to adulthood, detachment from those settings—especially long-term detachment—can impede development of the knowledge and skills needed to thrive as self-sufficient adults(1, 3).

The effects also extend beyond the individual. A nation with a skilled workforce is better prepared to compete in today's global economy, making youth disconnection in the U.S. a serious social and economic concern (3). Considering both direct costs (such as public assistance and incarceration) and indirect costs (such as lost earnings and tax revenue), the burden of disconnected youth on taxpayers has been estimated as high as $93 billion annually (3). Research also shows that investments in reconnecting these young people yield substantial economic gains; for example, it is estimated that every $1 spent on connecting youth to jobs or education yields a $5 return (3, 4).

Factors that place older teens at increased risk for becoming disengaged from school and work include living in poverty, experiencing unstable housing or homelessness, having a disability, being involved in the foster care or criminal justice systems, and becoming a parent, among others (1, 2, 4). Statewide and nationally, African American, American Indian, and Latino youth are more likely than their white or Asian/Pacific Islander peers to be disconnected from work and school, as are youth from rural areas when compared with those in urban and suburban areas (1, 5).
For more information on disconnected youth, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Lewis, K. (2020). A decade undone: Youth disconnection in the age of coronavirus. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://measureofamerica.org/youth-disconnection-2020

2.  American Youth Policy Forum. (n.d.). Opportunity youth. Retrieved from: https://www.aypf.org/youth-populations/opportunity-youth/

3.  Lewis, K., & Gluskin, R. (2018). Two futures: The economic case for keeping youth on track. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://measureofamerica.org/PSID

4.  Jobs for the Future. (2020). Connecting opportunity youth to postsecondary credentials and careers: Federal investments and scaling best practices. Retrieved from: https://www.jff.org/resources/Connecting-opportunity-youth-to-postsecondary-credentials-and-careers

5.  KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2020). Teens ages 16 to 19 not in school and not working by race. Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bar/7803-teens-ages-16-to-19-not-in-school-and-not-working-by-race?loc=1&loct=2#2/6/true/1729/10,11,9,12,1,185,13/15064
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 2014-2018 estimates for regions with data ranging from 1.5% to 11.2% across counties and from less than 0.1% to more than 15% across school districts.

Policy Implications
In recent years, policymakers increasingly have focused on issues surrounding disconnected youth, recognizing the substantial number of teens and young adults who, if they are not reconnected with school or work, face increased risks for adverse life outcomes, including physical and mental health problems in adulthood and long-term struggles with unemployment (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 (3). Youth disconnection disproportionately affects young people of color, those with disabilities, those in the foster care or criminal justice systems, young parents, and those who are homeless, living in poverty, or in rural or underserved communities (1, 2, 4).

Policymakers can prioritize and invest in strategies to prevent youth from becoming disconnected in the first place and to reengage disconnected youth with school, work, and community (5). Research shows that investments in reconnecting these youth yield substantial economic returns (3, 4). Policy solutions should be comprehensive and evidence-based, and they should work across sectors and levels of government (4, 5).

Policy and program options that could prevent or address youth disconnection include:
  • Ensuring that all families have access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education—which can reduce achievement gaps and lay the foundation for later success—and effective family support programs, such home-visiting services (5, 6)
  • Creating long-term funding solutions for California's early childhood, K-12, and higher education systems, ensuring equitable distribution of resources, curricula, and staff (6)
  • Assuring that all schools, especially those in rural and low-income communities, provide safe, positive environments with non-punitive discipline policies and effective systems to address students' academic, physical, emotional, behavioral, and other needs (5, 6)
  • Supporting struggling students by increasing investments in and access to counseling, mentoring, summer learning, and after-school programs; also, supporting flexible learning options that allow students to earn high school credits through non-traditional paths (6, 7)
  • Improving transition planning between high school and college, especially for vulnerable youth, and ensuring that K-12 students have equitable access to college preparatory resources (7, 8)
  • Supporting efforts among high schools, community colleges, nonprofits, and local workforce investment boards to provide career and technical pathways that link youth with internships, apprenticeships, job training, and career services; as part of this, building partnerships with and incentivizing employers to hire and train youth (4, 7, 9)
  • Strengthening cross-sector community efforts to provide case management and comprehensive support services (e.g., mental health care, child care, transportation, etc.) for disconnected youth and young adults (4, 9)
  • Supporting youth engagement and youth development programs—such as youth advisory councils, civic engagement programs, volunteer 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, 5, 6)
For more information on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit Measure of America and Jobs for the Future. Also see the following topics on kidsdata.org: School Climate, High School Graduation, and College Eligibility.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Lewis, K. (2020). A decade undone: Youth disconnection in the age of coronavirus. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://measureofamerica.org/youth-disconnection-2020

2.  American Youth Policy Forum. (n.d.). Opportunity youth. Retrieved from: https://www.aypf.org/youth-populations/opportunity-youth/

3.  Lewis, K., & Gluskin, R. (2018). Two futures: The economic case for keeping youth on track. Measure of America. Retrieved from: http://measureofamerica.org/PSID

4.  Jobs for the Future. (2020). Connecting opportunity youth to postsecondary credentials and careers: Federal investments and scaling best practices. Retrieved from: https://www.jff.org/resources/Connecting-opportunity-youth-to-postsecondary-credentials-and-careers

5.  Mendelson, T., et al. (2018). Opportunity youth: Insights and opportunities for a public health approach to reengage disconnected teenagers and young adults. Public Health Reports, 133(Suppl. 1), 54S-64S. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0033354918799344

6.  Children Now. (2020). 2020 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and a roadmap for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/portfolio-posts/20-report-card

7.  Atwell, M. N., et al. (2019). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in raising high school graduation rates. Civic & Everyone Graduates Center. Retrieved from: https://www.americaspromise.org/2019-building-grad-nation-report

8.  Johnson, H., et al. (2019). Higher education in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/higher-education-in-california

9.  Griseta, M. (2017). Policy brief: Best practices and model partnerships for serving out-of-school youth under California's WIOA state plan. California Workforce Development Board. Retrieved from: https://cwdb.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2016/11/OSY-Policy-Brief-final_ACCESSIBLE.pdf
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Disconnected Youth