New Opportunities to Support Youth Employment

Youth employment currently stands at its lowest level in more than 60 years. Many suggest that this is due, in part, to thedisproportionate impact the Great Recession had on young people, particularly low-income young adults of color.

The White House Council for Community Solutions estimates there are approximately 6.7 million Americans ages 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor enrolled in school. About 3.3 million are what economists consider to be “underattached” — young people who may have held jobs or attended college for a short period, but who have not progressed through college or made a stable attachment to the labor market.

Approximately 3.4 million, however, are chronically disconnected, and are more likely to have grown up in poverty, to be young men of color and face a confluence of risk factors — for example, are young parents, have been involved in the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems or have dropped out of high school.

With only 19 percent of African-American and 21 percent of Latino youth working, most youth of color will reach adulthood without benefiting from high-quality work experiences to fuel their career aspirations. Worse, high levels of youth unemployment have been linked with higher rates of violence and involvement in high-risk behaviors among teens, which can lead to increased incarceration and decreased school completion, and undermine future employment prospects.

This reality is especially pertinent for our most vulnerable youth. Young people in foster care are four times more likely to graduate from high school if they have worked before their 18th birthdays. Young people who are disconnected from both work and school for an extended period of time miss out on valuable learning opportunities, which diminish their future earning potential. Studies estimate that each year of disconnection can reduce a young person’s lifetime earnings by 2 to 3 percent.

On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the first reform of the public workforce system in 15 years. WIOA provides unprecedented focuses on connecting high-risk young people to training and employment services, requiring a minimum of 75 percent of state and local youth funding to be invested in out-of-school people ages 16 to 24.

WIOA supersedes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. It outlines a broad new vision to support an integrated service delivery system through which states and local areas can leverage other federal, state, local and philanthropic resources to support in- and out-of-school youth. WIOA commits funding to provide high-quality services for young people beginning with career exploration and guidance, and support for educational attainment and opportunities for industry-focused, in-demand skills training. These services are intended to lead to employment and career pathways, or enrollment in postsecondary education.