Young people out of school and out of work at a record high

January 28, 2010 § Leave a comment


A new study underscores the need for a national re-enrollment strategy.

“One of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education,” said President Obama in yesterday night’s state of the union. And although Obama says he does not accept second place for the US of A, our nation’s education system falls well under that. Among industrialized nation, we hold title to having one of the highest high school dropout rates, with an estimated 7,000 students dropping out each day. But even worse, the social and economic costs and consequences of dropping out has escalated in this economic recession, according to a national study released this week.

Among those hit hardest by the recession are young high school dropouts. According to the study, this group has a record high rate of unemployment and incarceration; and black youths and young people from low-income families are at the greatest disadvantage. How this group fares has repercussions on the nation’s overall social and economic well-being. The report underscores the need for Congress and the President to get behind a national re-enrollment strategy, and expand employment opportunities for jobless youth.

Some findings from the report:

  • The percentage of teenagers, age 16 to 19, employed is at its lowest since statistics first began to be taken down in 1948.
  • One out of five black men, age 20 to 24, are neither working nor in school.
  • Forty percent of young high school dropouts were jobless for the entire year in 2008.
  • On an average month, the majority of young dropouts, 54 percent, were unemployed. In sharp contrast, about 13 percent of young adults with a college degree were jobless on average in the same time period.
  • The percentage of Americans age 20 to 24 neither working nor in school jumped 11 percent in two years, from 17 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2009.
  • Young dropouts in 2006-2007 were nearly four times more likely than their peers with a bachelor’s s degree to be living in a family with an annual money income below 125 percent of the poverty line.
  • Nearly one out of ten young male high school dropouts was incarcerated on a given day during 2006 and 2007 compared to one of 33 high school graduates.
  • Over $292,000 is the cost incurred by taxpayers for each dropout over their lifetime in terms of lost earnings and therefore lower taxes paid and higher spending for social costs including incarceration, healthcare, and welfare.

The key message of yesterday night’s state of the union was transparent- it’s still the economy, stupid. But an economic recovery plan that fails to invest wisely in our nation’s young people will fail.

A year ago, in Obama’s first address to Congress, he noted that a good education is no longer a pathway to opportunity, but a prerequisite. The millions of young people that drop out of high school each year are given no share in the American dream. Even during a national economic recovery, they will likely continue to struggle. The report identifies a series of employment, earnings,income and social difficulties faced by young adults lacking high school diplomas.

There is an economic and social justice need for legislators, educators, parents, students and communities to put forth a concerted effort to prevent existing high school students from dropping out, and to encourage  dropouts to re-enroll and graduate.


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