Q&A: KIDS COUNT Report Recommends Ways to Get Disconnected Youth Back on Track

Photograph of a young woman painting a house.

Youth employment is at its lowest point since World War II, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT, an initiative that tracks the wellbeing of children and youth in the United States. That finding might not surprise youth workers who’ve tried to find a job for a homeless young person, but “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity” (PDF, 2.39 MB) has a lot to say about what we can do to turn things around for young people, especially the more than 6.5 million 16- to 24-year-olds who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs.

We spoke with one of the report’s authors, Associate Director of Policy Reform and Data Laura Speer, about how we can help create more and better education and employment opportunities for our nation’s disconnected young people. 

NCFY: What’s at stake when we talk about youth employment? Why bring light to this issue now?

Speer: A lot of the jobs that were previously available to young people are no longer obtainable, being done by computers, or are being occupied by older people who have been hit by the recession. Employers are more likely to hire the person that has experience rather than a youth who has never held a job. We have a whole generation of young people who are entering the workforce. We need to make sure they are prepared. 

We need to make sure we are helping youth who have gotten off track for many different reasons be able to get back on the pathway to education and employment by being able to offer programs that also have multiple options for attaining their goals. When young people are not on a traditional path, such has having dropped out of school, and are given an opportunity to get on a career path, they take advantage of it and really thrive. 

NCFY:  What does the report say about disconnected teen parents?

Speer: We have found that one-fifth of disconnected youth are parents of young children. Teen parents need to be put on the pathway to be able to support not only themselves but their children.  We interviewed several parenting youth and found that many of them said that the birth of their child was the reason they wanted to return to school or pursue a GED.

In the report we recognized employment options for youth that have multiple pathways in helping them get readjusted with education options and into the workforce. We’ve found that the opportunity to get on a career path while working towards educational goals is more advantageous for disconnected youth. Programs like YouthBuild have worked for those that have dropped out of school and want to get back on track.

NCFY:  What can youth workers take away from this report?

Speer: Youth workers are an important component in building the future success of the United States workforce and haven’t been given the credit they deserve.  Reports show that by 2020, 1.5 million jobs will go unfilled causing the U.S. to face a “skillgap”-- lack of skill and education to meet the needs of those positions. Youth workers have the opportunity to help fill these gaps by encouraging youth to continue to pursue their educations and providing information about skills and jobs.  

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