National survey and research report finds jobless youth want opportunities

National survey finds more than half looking for full-time work however equal number admit they do not have enough education or experience to succeed

A national survey and research report recently released by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates shows that nearly three in four (73 percent) of youth ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school, are unemployed and do not have a college degree are confident and hopeful that they will be able to achieve their goals in life. These findings were unveiled as part of a White House Summer Jobs Plus event earlier this month where America’s Promise Chair Mrs. Alma Powell and Civic Enterprises CEO John Bridgeland, among others, made the case for summer jobs to connect low-income and disconnected youth to employment opportunities.

This survey sought to better understand how these youth, often referred to as “disconnected youth” or “opportunity youth,” became detached from school and work and the challenges they face trying to reconnect to society. Based on the findings from this survey, this report provides a glimpse of the enormous benefits to the nation if we could re-engage these young people and what would be most helpful in getting them back on track. 

Opportunity Road: The Promise and Challenge of America’s Forgotten Youth  includes results from this national youth survey and references new research also released today from Teachers College, Columbia University on the economic costs to taxpayers and society from opportunity youth. According to Columbia University, of the 38.9 million 16-24 year olds in the nation, more than 17 percent (6.7 million) are opportunity youth. In 2011 alone, opportunity youth cost taxpayers $93 million in lost revenues from a lack of productive work and increased use of social services. The lifetime economic burden of such youth is up to $4.7 trillion.

“While preventing students from leaving school in the first place is the most obvious solution to the dropout crisis, we must also be equally vigilant about working with those young people who have already left school and are either without a diploma, workforce skills or both,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance.

From August 12-29, 2011, Hart Research Associates surveyed a national cross-section of youth ages 16-24 who were neither enrolled in school nor working and who had not completed a college degree.  In conducting this survey, Hart posed a series of questions that sought to measure why these young people became disconnected from school or work and what would help them return to school or the workforce. 

Key findings from the report:

  • Being “disconnected” does not mean a lack of career or educational aspirations. Nearly two in three (65 percent) opportunity youth surveyed say they have a goal to finish high school or college and believe they will, while 85 percent say it is important for them to have a good job in order to live the life they want.
  • Having a support system is critical to opportunity youth feeling confident about achieving their goals. While the majority (52 percent) of those surveyed who said they have a lot of help and support feel confident about their future, only 37 percent of those who self-identified as “on their own” feel the same.
  • Having a diploma also impacts goal setting for these young people. Nearly half (48 percent) of opportunity youth with a high school diploma or GED say they have clear goals, conversely only 34 percent of those without a diploma feel the same.
  • Though more than three-quarters of youth surveyed (77 percent) take personal responsibility for their future success (54 percent say they are looking for a full-time job) the barriers to entry into the workforce and school can be profound. A nearly equal proportion of respondents surveyed said they do not have enough work experience for the job they want (50 percent) or lack enough education for a particular position (47 percent). 
  • Finding pathways to both earn money and gain experience while obtaining an education is the most attractive option for opportunity youth looking to reconnect.

The report also highlights success stories of opportunity youth and the programs that helped them reconnect. These include: Year Up, YouthBuild and the College, Career, and Technology Academy at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district in Texas. These success stories help showcase the report’s policy and programmatic recommendations as possible solutions to better support these young people, integrate them back into society and save the nation hundreds of billions of dollars. 

“America’s forgotten youth—the millions of young people ages 16-24 who haven’t completed high school or college and don’t have a job—are costing our nation billions of dollars every year,” said John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and author of the report.

This report was supported in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and James Irvine Foundation in consultation with a practitioner advisory committee from The Forum for Youth Investment, Jobs for the Future, and YouthBuild USA.