Six million US children, 16-24, not in school or working

A study showing 15% youth unemployment reveals a need to refocus the U.S. education system so students leave school with high demand skills Photo: wikimedia

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2013 Does a new study which says that nearly six million American youth are neither in school or working suggest the need to refocus our education system in America?

The Opportunity Nation coalition, a bipartisan non-profit of over 250 businesses, educational, faith-based & community organizations and institutions, discovered that 15% of Americans between ages 16 and 24 do not have a job and are not currently in school.

The study found that this astounding number of young people will never realize their full potential, are unlikely to command high salaries and are positioned to become a drain on public resources. Internet access, college graduation, income equality and public safety are among various factors impacting a community’s “Opportunity Score”- a numerical index of how much opportunities are available for youth in that state or community.  The purpose of the score is to ascertain the economic, academic and civic conditions that exist in different communities nationwide and, based on that number, connect community with resources and partners to better the score.

“The two factors that correlate most with a region’s Opportunity Score are the number of people living below the federal poverty line and the percentage of young people ages 16-24 who are not in school or not working,”  Mark Edwards, Opportunity Nation’s Executive Director told Politics of Raising Children.  “The personal and collective costs of this disconnection are steep…we know that engaged young adults can keep us from paying steep financial and social costs.”

Edwards added, “young adults who are not in school or working cost taxpayers $93 billion annually and $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes in lost revenues and increased social services.”

This drain is felt less in communities that are more successful in adequately preparing their young people for the future.

The report found that Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Riverside, Calif., all have more than 100,000 idle youth.

The most supportive cities included Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota, while Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico were the least supporting.

Solutions are available, though not all are fully funded.

For example, the report noted that early childhood programs for students from poor families and on-time high school graduation rates would help reduce the number of idle young adults greatly. But Head Start programs have been on the chopping block in federal sequester cuts and local and state programs feel the pinch too due to budget shortfalls. 

What may be most illuminating about this study, however, is the need to restructure our current middle and secondary educational system so that children get skills and education in high growth areas where there is a dearth of qualified workers.

For example, several reports have previously indicated that  that there is a shortage of qualified people who know how to code and work in computer fields, yet not enough schools in America offer courses to teach fundamentals of coding.

Beyond the tech fields, automobile mechanics and other highly skilled positions, if taught in schools and offered as a prerequisite or elective, would empower more students to be more prepared for the workforce upon graduations 

Educators need to create ways to spark student interest in their future. 

The Opportunity Nation study show 15% of US youth are neither in school or working


Students should be taken out of the classrooms and provided opportunity to tour facilities where their favorite video games are tweaked and conjured up, for example.  And where the budget doesn’t allow Silicon Valley could come to them via Assemblies, distance and video conferencing learning and remote virtual tours.

The icing on the cake would be if students are offered opportunities to compete for paid internships upon graduation and successful completion of courses. Even those who do not make it all the way through or who are ultimately not selected will at least still be armed with all the tools needed to better compete.

 “We need more robust cross-sector collaborations,” Russell Krumnow, Opportunity Nation’s Managing Director said of Opportunity Nation’s diverse coalition working to bring the K-12 system, higher education institutions and businesses together to build strong training and job pipelines. “Our partners are leaders on making sure students can earn and learn at the same time and get access to apprenticeships and internships that not only build skills but also foster social capital so they can connect to critical networks.

Additionally, schools should update curriculum with courses and training in any competitive field of the future where we know today there aren’t enough skilled workers.

We know the need is there but sadly, our stagnant, frigid and archaic ways of educating our children is contributing to this unfortunate number of idle young people identified in this study.

In a 2011 interview in the website, for example, Dr. Chad Womack who owns a nanobiomolecular start-up and chaired a task force to boost Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematics opportunities in Philadelphia said the education leadership in charge when he joined the task force was uninterested in making STEM a priority.

He criticized the former superintendent of the Philadelphia school system Arlene Ackerman, stating that “she didn’t want to be bothered with it,” adding, “this is very typical of leadership in public education….It speaks to the mindset of public education and its role in preparing kids for the future.”

Womack also said that the school system wasn’t best suited for the task anyway.

“The school district was not prepared to address STEM as an initiative that would provide an opportunity for students to have a pathway into college, majoring in STEM, and then into careers,” Womack told the website

The Philadelphia example may be representative of what’s going on in schools nationwide.

But the tech industry has been asking for high schools to step up for years.

The current administration in the White House does, however, seem interested.

This Friday, President Obama will visit the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn when making a pitch that middle class workers and entrepreneurs focus on skills needed to compete in the global economy.

President Obama referenced P-TECH in his last State of the Union address. The school is collaboration between New York public schools and City University of New York and IBM. Students graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computers or engineering.

More public/private partnership is also essential.  We know well how much government funding is stretched thin given our pervasive national, state and local budget deficits.

Opportunity Nation’s Shared Plan, for example, lays out in detail how schools, businesses and communities can work to engage more young people and help them find meaningful educational and career pathways that lead to 21st century jobs and wages that can sustain a family.

“We need to give every American student opportunities like this,” Obama said during his State of the Union address about these types of efforts.

Unfortunately, if our local communities, local governments and schools aren’t supported and/or step up to fill in the gaps and make the critical changes, it’s going to be hard for change to come.


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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