Youth Disconnection

There’s a problem with our conception of progress in America today. It’s based on money measures and not much else. Measure of America creates metrics to tell us about how people are doing. One fundamental indicator of societal progress and well-being is how young people are faring in their transition to adulthood. And on this measure, 4.5 million young people are falling behind.

Disconnected youth are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. There are 4,599,100 disconnected youth in America today, or about one in nine teens and young adults (11.5 percent).

These vulnerable young people are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting us all.


Since Measure of America first wrote about youth disconnection half a decade ago, public awareness of both the plight and the promise of young people who are not in either school or the workforce has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, fewer young people are disconnected from school and work today than were before the Great Recession. But challenges remain: 4.5 million young women and men are still disconnected from the educational and employment opportunities required for rewarding, productive lives.

Until Measure of America began analyzing the disconnected youth population in 2012, these data were not available. This research is essential to provide policymakers, business leaders, philanthropists, community leaders with the up-to-date data they need to target and tailor their interventions and assess the effectiveness of their efforts.

Measure of America has produced six national-level reports on youth disconnection, most recently in April 2019, as well as a study of long-term impacts, several briefs about disconnection at the congressional district level, and an interactive data tool.

Check out Career360: An Employer-Led Approach to Bridging the Opportunity Divide, a white paper about youth disconnection in Chicago co-authored by Measure of America and LeadersUp.

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  • Nationally: The youth disconnection rate for the United States overall was 11.5 percent in 2017—down from 11.7 percent the previous year. This represents a total of about 4.5 million young people, or about one in nine.
  • Disability: Disconnected young people are more than three times as likely to have a disability of some kind than connected young people—16.6 percent as compared to 5.0 percent. White male disconnected youth have the highest disability rate, 23.0 percent, but in general face fewer structural barriers to school persistence and employment than other groups.
  • Gender: Boys and young men are slightly more likely to be disconnected than girls and young women, 11.9 percent as compared to 11.1 percent. But this ranking varies by race; among Asian, Latino, and Native American youth, young women have a slightly higher disconnection rate, whereas for black and white youth, young men do. The size of the gender gap is largest for black young people.
  • Race and ethnicity: Of the country’s five major racial and ethnic groups, Asian American youth have the lowest disconnection rate, 6.6 percent, unchanged from their 2016 rate. White youth have the second-lowest rate (9.4 percent), followed by Latino (13.2 percent), black (17.9 percent), and Native American youth (23.9 percent). Latino youth saw the greatest improvement in their disconnection rate between 2016 to 2017, while black teens and young adults are the only group whose disconnection rate increased. Disconnection rates also vary by Asian and Latino subgroup.
  • Regions: Disconnection continues to be a particular challenge in the South. The East South Central area, which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, has the highest disconnection rate overall, 14.2 percent. New England has the lowest rate, 8.26 percent.
  • States: Minnesota has the lowest rate of youth disconnection (6.2 percent), followed by Iowa (7.0 percent) and Massachusetts (7.1 percent). West Virginia has the highest rate, 17.0 percent, followed by New Mexico (16.5 percent) and Mississippi (16.4 percent). Idaho experienced the largest increase in the share of disconnected young people between 2016 and 2017, nearly 25 percent. The state’s 2017 rate of 13.6 percent is almost as high as its 2014 peak of 14.0 percent. Alaska saw the largest drop in its disconnection rate, a decrease of 27 percent.


Through our research and engagement with stakeholders over the years, we have learned in greater detail about the challenges related to youth disconnection, as well as what works in addressing them. Though they overlap, these challenges and related recommendations can be organized into four very general buckets: confronting historical and intergenerational disadvantage, especially racism; supporting vulnerable youthkeeping youth connected; and reengaging disconnected youth. Read about challenges and recommendations here.