Disconnected Youth are young adults aged 16-24 who are neither in school nor working and are sometimes referred to as Opportunity Youth because of their potential value to our communities and economies. Nationwide, 6.7 million (or 17%) young people aged 16-24 are estimated to be disconnected, at the cost of $93 billion annually. Unemployment of young people is at a historic high and communities across the country are in search of solutions that will truly move the needle.
Though the issue has been recognized nationwide, the magnitude of Opportunity Youth and the social and economic issues associated with disconnection are especially problematic in the Greater New Orleans area. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding destroyed the physical infrastructure of New Orleans. But the impact of the destruction of housing, displacement of families and students, and the disruption of public education has had a lasting impact on the lives of young adults. In the New Orleans Metro Area, between 12,195 and 15,781 low-income youth aged 16-24 are considered Opportunity Youth.
Though the causes are numerous and complex, disconnection is often tied to failures within the education system. Too many students leave high school before they have obtained the skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary education or to connect to the workforce. Research confirms that effective solutions must be tied to the systems the youth are disconnected from (education, social, and economic.) There is an opportunity to reengage youth through community partnerships that leverage resources across multiple sectors to move youth along the pathways to education, employment, and ongoing civic participation. Multi-sector partnerships incorporate a variety of support mechanisms that, when employed in concert, can significantly contribute to the scope of their impact. Effective efforts aimed at Opportunity Youth are comprehensive, youth-centered, flexible, and pragmatic.
Youth are assets. However, many young people in New Orleans are not given the opportunity to reach their potential. In order to do so, they first must acquire the basic education skills that traditional public schools failed to provide to them. In addition, Opportunity Youth want and need postsecondary credentials, employment training, and life skills. Creating effective opportunities for education and credentialing that will prepare them for college and careers will have a great impact on the well-being and economic health of the New Orleans community.
Opportunity Youth yearn to feel valued and respected. It is time to reaffirm the moral and political will to reconnect Opportunity Youth and help them get back on track to lead productive, successful, and satisfying lives.
In its initiative, Reconnecting Opportunity Youth, the Cowen Institute will examine the causes and provide an analysis of the challenges that Opportunity Youth are facing. Through a series of white papers, briefings, and reports, we will consider the trends, policies, and practices surrounding Opportunity Youth. We will study local and national programs and strategies that can be developed to more effectively reach Opportunity Youth in the Greater New Orleans area. We will highlight steps that we as a city and a community need to undertake to provide opportunities for young men and women so they can embark on pathways that lead to careers and productive lives. There is a pressing need to develop an action plan for our city and our youth. By outlining strategies that will guide our youth out of poverty, prison, and other inhibiting circumstances, our goal is to inspire and initiate systemic change. We are ready and hope that others will join us so young people who struggle to attain meaningful education and jobs in our city will find their paths to success.
Reconnecting Opportunity Youth Publications and Blogs:
Reconnecting Opportunity Youth: A Data Reference Guide (May 18, 2012)
Reconnecting Opportunity Youth: Education Pathways (May 18, 2012)
Community Conversations about Disconnected Youth (March 15, 2012)
Collective Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter 2011.)