Disconnected Youth: Are Our Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood?

This post is part of a series of articles about the recently released 2015 Children By the Numbers Data Bulletin.  In this series, we tell the stories behind the numbers and statistics featured in the data bulletin.

It’s shocking, really. 12% of Westchester’s young people ages 16 to 24 aren’t in school and they aren’t working. That’s 12,280 young adults. They are the “disconnected youth” – disconnected from the positive activities that help young people prepare for an independent life as an adult.

Disconnected youth are young adults ages 16-24 who are: 1. Not in school, 2. Not working, 3. Vulnerable as they transition from youth to adulthood.

And for youth of color, the numbers are even more astounding. One study found that roughly 60% of disconnected youth are African American or Hispanic.

Why does it matter?

Young people who experience long spells where they aren’t working or in school face lifelong consequences in lost wages, health problems, and more. And an unsuccessful transition from youth to adulthood doesn’t just impact disconnected youth themselves. It means that our communities bear the burden of a weaker economy, a smaller tax base, and greater public benefit expenditures.

The struggle to connect

Once a youth becomes disconnected, the barriers to reconnecting to school or a job become even greater, keeping youth in a vicious cycle of disconnection. In fact, over half of disconnected youth say they are looking for full-time work, but they are impeded by of lack of education and work experience, as well as a lack of jobs in their area. Across Westchester County, 22.7% of 16-19 year olds and 18.5% of 20-24 year olds are unemployed.

Westchester youth experience higher rates of unemployment than adults.

Even youth who successfully graduate from high school and receive some higher education may struggle to find a job that pays enough to get by.  In Westchester County, the estimated income needed to support a family of four is $57,960 – a barrier that is usually broken only by those with bachelor’s degrees or higher.

There is strong evidence that financial stability is difficult to achieve without a bachelor's degree.



Why do young people become disconnected youth?

Disconnected youth aren’t just lazy or troubled kids – they’re young people who don’t have the support they needed from their family, school, or community to stay engaged in positive activities. In particular, foster children are at a higher risk of becoming disconnected.

We recently examined the racial disparities present in suspension rates, arrest rates, and incarceration rates. Youth of color in Westchester also face lower graduation and college readiness rates, and higher dropout rates.

Numerous studies point to a strong connection between suspensions and future involvement in the justice system. Instead of restorative disciplinary practices that help a young learn to make better choices, an over-reliance on suspension in schools helps to feed the “school to prison pipeline.”

What’s more, 16 and 17 year olds who are placed in the adult criminal justice system (as is currently the law) don’t receive adequate, age-appropriate resources to help them get an education, develop job skills, and start fresh once released.

All of these factors combined make it more difficult for youth to stay engaged in their education or job. To learn more about how youth become disconnected and what we can do to reconnect them, click here.