Zeroing In on Place and Race: Youth Disconnection in America’s Cities

Kristen Lewis, Sarah Burd-Sharps
Measure of America
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Jul, 2015

Disconnected youth are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. There are 5,527,000 disconnected youth in America today, or one in seven young adults (13.8 percent)—about as many people as live in Minnesota. The national disconnected youth population is larger than the populations of thirty US states.

The good news is that the rate of youth disconnection has fallen since the Great Recession. Roughly 280,000 fewer young people are disconnected today than in 2010, the peak year for youth disconnection during the last decade. Beneath the national rate of 13.8 percent, however, lies staggering variation. In some cities and among some racial and ethnic groups, young people who are neither in school nor working are few and far between. In others, youth disconnection is an everyday reality, tragically persistent and commonplace.

The costs of disconnection are high, both for individuals and for society. Disconnected youth are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting all of us. Our analysis of a very small subset of the direct costs of youth disconnection reveals an astonishingly high cost to taxpayers: $26.8 billion in 2013 alone, or nearly the entire amount the federal government spends on science.

Zeroing In on Place and Race was written to shine a light on the nature and extent of this problem at the national level, in nearly 100 cities, and among the country’s major racial and ethnic groups. It provides practitioners and policymakers the up-to-date data necessary to target and tailor interventions and assess the effectiveness of programmatic efforts.

Of the ninety-eight major metro areas included in this report—home to two in three Americans— disconnection rates range from under 8 percent in the Omaha, Nebraska, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, metro areas to over 20 percent in greater Lakeland, Florida; Bakersfield, California; and Memphis, Tennessee.

At the national level, youth disconnection rates for blacks (21.6 percent), Native Americans (20.3 percent), and Latinos (16.3 percent) are markedly higher than rates for Asian Americans (7.9 percent) or whites (11.3 percent). In nine metro areas, at least one in four black youth are disconnected. In ten metro areas, at least one in five Latino youth are disconnected.

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