Idle Teens and Young Adults: the Number of Disconnected Youth in Kentucky Jumped 49% Since 2000

Jeffersontown, KY – Nearly 6.5 million teens and young adults in the U.S., including 110,000 in Kentucky, are not enrolled in school and not employed, even part-time. These youth are veering toward a path of chronic underemployment as adults and are failing to gain the skills employers need in the 21st century, according to a new KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Many of these young people ages 16-24 face numerous obstacles, according to the report, Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity. Often described as disconnected youth, they have difficulty finding employment because they face greater competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs, especially in light of the recession, and lack the higher skill set required for the well-paying jobs that are available. They often don’t graduate from high school on time or ready for college, further decreasing their employment options. And many contend with hurdles beyond their control, such as growing up in poverty or attending low-performing schools.

“Building a strong future for Kentucky requires preparing today’s youth to be productive workers in adulthood,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “These young people deserve opportunities to work and to be successful, ultimately contributing to a prosperous future for the Commonwealth.”

The lack of education, opportunity and connection to school or work has long-term implications for disconnected youth, the report shows: They may become adults unable to achieve financial stability and without employment prospects. They also can present a significant cost to taxpayers, as government spends more to support them.

In Kentucky, between 2000 and 2011 the number of 16-19 year-olds not in school and not employed rose by 3 percent, while the number of idle young adults ages 20-24 grew by 88 percent. For both age groups, Kentucky’s rate of disconnected youth exceeds the national rate.

The report emphasizes the need to provide multiple, flexible pathways to success for disconnected young people and to find ways to reengage high school dropouts. It also advocates creating opportunities for youth in school or other public systems that allow them to gain early job experience though such avenues as community service, internship and summer and part-time work. In Kentucky, policymakers and advocates can work to streamline public benefits by creating a single application for several public programs – making it easier on young people to get the help they need while searching for work or going back to school.

“If we are really serious about ensuring that every young person in Kentucky has the skills and experiences required to achieve long-term success, a piecemeal approach will not work.  We cannot attend to the looming question of disengaged youth with worn-out answers.  Instead, we have to invent new structures and new expectations around which business, government, schoolhouses, faith communities and nonprofits work together,” said Brooks.

View the report at www.aecf.org.