The blog of the Urban Institute
December 17, 2019

Why We Need to Reach Young People Who Are Disconnected from School and Work

December 17, 2019

How much time young people can spend in work and education has a major effect on their future financial stability.

In new Urban Institute research, we explored how young parents balance parenting with work and school and how this balancing act relates to their incomes through age 30. We also looked at how much time young parents spend in neither work nor education and how that disconnection can negatively affect their future economic success.

But disconnection from work and education is a problem for more than just young parents; it is common among all young people. We find that young people (those ages 16 to 24), especially those who are more disadvantaged or low income, spend a significant portion of their time disconnected from work and school. And increased time disconnected is associated with lower incomes later in life.

This aligns with previous research showing the link between disconnection from work and education and poor life outcomes, such as less educational attainment, lower earnings, and health problems. That’s why it’s critical to reach young people early to help them access education or enter the workforce and secure a more stable future for their families.

Young people spend up to one-fifth of their time disconnected through age 30

We tracked young people in a national dataset from age 16 through 30 to see when they were only in school, only working, working and going to school, or disconnected from both. By their early twenties, young people spend around 20 percent of their time disconnected, which remains relatively steady through age 30.

figure 1

Of course, some people are disconnected from work and education by choice. They might be supported by a spouse or partner, be stay-at-home parents, or have the means to spend time away from work and education. Some may be unable to work because of a disability or other reason. But a significant share of disconnected people have ongoing challenges finding stable work or progressing in education.

Women, black people, young parents, and low-income people spend the most time disconnected when they’re younger

By age 20, black and low-income youth spend more than a quarter of their time disconnected. By age 30, women and young parents are also disconnected about one-quarter of the time. Conversely, white youth are the sole demographic category who spend less than 20 percent of their time disconnected.

This is likely because of a number of factors, including structural racism leading to fewer early work and education opportunities for youth of color and resulting in people of color having lower-income and lower-wealth backgrounds (which make paying for school and child care more challenging).

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Regardless of their demographic group, people who spend more time disconnected in their youth tend to have lower incomes later in life. Each 10 percent increase in time spent disconnected from work and school is associated with a $7,000 to $9,000 average decrease in family income at age 30.

Reaching disconnected young people early on and through their twenties

Disconnection may look like just one point in time, but it often represents people’s persistent struggles to find stable employment to support their families. Reaching young people early on is key, but it is also important to offer supports for people in work and education later in life to ensure they can balance their responsibilities and improve their financial stability.

Daniel Gomez (L) is interviewed by Steve Persaud, a J.C. Penny Assistant Merchandise Manager, for a seasonal job during a job fair at the J.C. Penny department store in the Dadeland Mall on October 17, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle via Getty Images.

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