Urban Wire A Closer Look at Youth in 11 LRNG Partner Cities
Semhar Gebrekristos, Amanda Briggs
Display Date

Media Name: ui-venn-blog-image.jpg

The first figure was corrected on 5/22/19. To view the figure originally published, click here.

LRNG, which recently merged with Southern New Hampshire University, encourages youth across 11 partner cities to earn digital badges on an online learning platform, while working closely with community-based organizations and employers in a local education ecosystem that connects learning and work.

From April 2017 to April 2019, the Urban Institute (Urban) worked with LRNG by providing technical assistance on data collection and measurement, advice on achievement of workforce development goals, and formative feedback on implementation. This work was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to support strategies for improving outcomes for youth.

Efforts like LRNG aim to provide alternative pathways to upward social mobility for disconnected youth—youth and young adults who are neither in school nor working. Although further evaluation research is needed to assess the effectiveness of such approaches, we know this population faces multiple barriers to success in education and the labor market, suggesting the need for new strategies.

Research shows that disconnected youth are more likely to be involved in criminal activities, have less education, and be poorer than their connected peers. Federal investment in programs that provide education, training, and social services for youth has been decreasing and is projected to decline through 2028, according to a recent Urban Institute analysis. Meanwhile, community youth initiatives have gained traction at the local level.

LRNG partners with networks of cities, partners, and supporters to provide opportunities for youth to participate in learning experiences and earn digital badges that unlock opportunities like job interviews, access to mentors, and college credit and scholarships. Similar to online credentials, badges demonstrate a mastery of skills and content and are intended to help youth prepare for life and work in the modern economy.

Throughout Urban’s engagement with LRNG, the portfolio of LRNG partner cities has evolved—some cities have phased out and others have joined the initiative. By region, the LRNG cities (as of December 2018) were (Midwest) Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Detroit, MI; Kansas City, MO; Madison, WI; Springfield, OH; (Northeast) Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; (West) San Jose, CA; West Sacramento, CA; and (South) Washington, DC.

Our analysis of these cities underlines the importance of youth initiatives and interventions that provide a pipeline to employment and advancement for disconnected youth. We find that:

  • LRNG partner cities have a higher percentage of minority youth (ages 15–24) than the national average and that minority status is associated with higher rates of youth disconnection, and
  • youth in these cities are more likely than their peers to be disconnected, unemployed, and living in poverty.

To conduct our analysis, we used secondary data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2012–16 five-year estimates) to create a snapshot of youth in LRNG partner cities, including their race or ethnicity, unemployment, disconnection, and poverty rate. Our analysis may help build understanding of these youths’ characteristics, challenges, environments, and how they compare to peers nationally.

On average, LRNG cities have higher rates of youth poverty, unemployment, and disconnection

Youth minority status, measured as the percentage of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are not white (non-Hispanic), is an important indicator to explore, as there are wide gaps in disconnection between racial and ethnic groups. Research has shown that while overall disconnection rates have declined, the gaps between groups persist.  Minority youth, particularly young men of color, are more likely than their peers to be disconnected .

The figure below demonstrates that LRNG cities, on average, have a much higher percentage of minority youth (53.1 percent) than the national average (31.5 percent). The share of minority youth ranges from 22.8 percent in Madison to 87.3 percent in Detroit.

figure 1

In addition to minority status, we also investigate three other indicators of youth engagement in LRNG cities.

  1. Youth disconnection rate, measured as the share of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 who are neither in school nor working. (We chose to limit the age range for the youth disconnection rate to 16–19 because these data are available at the city level in the American Community Survey.)
  2. Youth unemployment rate, measured as the unemployment rate for young people between the ages of 16 and 19.
  3. Youth poverty rate, measured as the percentage of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who had income below the federal poverty level in the past 12 months.

The figure below displays the data pulled for each of these indicators across LRNG cities. The US national average is provided as a baseline to identify which cities have above-average rates of youth poverty, unemployment, and disconnection.


LRNG cities are good candidates for youth-focused initiatives

  • The share of disconnected youth is higher than the national average (7 percent) in 7 of the 11 LRNG cities, the highest being in Detroit (15.9 percent).
  • Youth unemployment rates are higher than the US average in 8 of the 11 LRNG cities. Detroit, Newark, Chicago, and Philadelphia each have more than a 40 percent youth unemployment rate, while the national average is 22.9 percent.
  • The youth poverty rate is higher than the national average (20.9 percent) in 9 of the 11 LRNG cities. For example, the youth poverty rate is 44.4 percent in Detroit, and 41.4 percent in Madison.

Cities have unique challenges:

  • Detroit, has the highest rates of all three indicators (youth disconnection, unemployment, and poverty) and also has the highest percentage of minority youth (87.3 percent).
  • Although Madison has the second highest poverty rate, it has the lowest youth disconnection and unemployment rates. Madison also has the lowest percentage of minority youth (22.8 percent).
  • Philadelphia and Newark along with Detroit, have rates higher than the LRNG average for all three indicators and percentage minority youth.

The higher rate of youth disconnection, unemployment, and poverty rates in LRNG cities on average demonstrate that youth in these cities face potentially bigger barriers to success. Each of these factors can have implications that reach far into adulthood, affecting prospects for educational attainment, income mobility, and economic stability.  

The potentially negative outcomes for affected youth highlight the need for the design and implementation of programs that consider local needs and proactively intervene to address barriers before long-term labor market outcomes manifest.

Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Economic well-being Delinquency and crime Youth development
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center