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The Avenue

Most disconnected youth have a high school diploma

Too many young people are falling off an economic cliff after graduating from high school. A new analysis of disconnected youth finds that approximately 2.2 million low-income 20-24 year olds are not in school and not working, increasing their risk of future poverty and unemployment. And most have played by the rules. Half have a high school diploma, and another 20 percent have taken some college courses or have received other training beyond high school.

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While the total disconnected youth population includes young people aged 16-24, the vast majority (75 percent) fall between the ages of 20-24. Disconnection becomes more acute among young people past high-school age, which makes sense given that the K-12 educational system is charged with providing universal access. (Of course, with a high school graduation rate of 82 percent, it is doing so imperfectly, but the rate has shown upward movement in recent years.) The research is clear that education beyond high school—whether a two- or four-year degree, apprenticeship, or certificate—is necessary for a job enabling financial independence and stability.

For some, achieving these educational goals is difficult because of factors such as weak academic preparation due to poor schools, incomplete information about educational options and how to pay for them, unstable housing, childrearing, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Organizations serving disadvantaged and disconnected youth understand these barriers, and the best ones develop programs that increase young people’s skills, provide strong connections to the labor market, and offer a variety of supportive services. 

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