Disconnected youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school and not working.The national youth disconnection rate dropped 27 percent over nine years, from 14.7 percent in 2010 in the aftermath of the Great Recession to 10.7 percent in 2019. This translates to roughly 1,700,000 fewer young people cut off from pathways that lead to independent, rewarding adulthoods.
BREAKDOWN BY RACE & ETHNICITY & BY GENDER
The youth disconnection rate varies by race and ethnicity and by gender; Native Americans have the highest rate, 22.1 percent, Asians the lowest, 5.7 percent.
CONTRASTING PROFILES: CONNECTED VS. DISCONNECTED YOUTH
Who are disconnected youth? Young people both not working and not in school. This definition captures the categorical difference between disconnected and connected young people, but the two groups differ in many ways that go beyond their current employment and educational status. For example, disconnected women are more than four times as likely to be mothers as connected women.Explore more differences between connected youth and disconnected youth.
A DEEPER DIVE ON YOUTH WITH A DISABILITY
Disability is not a monolithic category. The American Community Survey, the source for our disconnected youth calculations, asks six questions about difficulties a person may have with physical or mental activities. If the answer to any one of the six following questions is yes, the person is categorized as having a disability:
Self-care difficulty: Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing?
Hearing difficulty: Is this person deaf or does he or she have serious difficulty hearing?
Vision difficulty: Is this person blind or does he or she have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?
Independent-living difficulty: Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone, such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?
Ambulatory difficulty: Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
Cognitive difficulty: Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
Each respondent with a disability could report anywhere between one and six of these types of difficulties. Disconnected youth with disabilities are twice as likely to have three or more types of difficulties, greatly compounding their challenges.
Three or More Difficulties
IN THE EIGHT COMMUNITY TYPES
Last year, for the first time ever, we calculated the youth disconnection rate for all of the country's roughly 2,400 public use microdata areas (PUMAs). PUMAs are areas defined by the US Census Bureau; they have populations of at least 100,000 people. The Census Bureau divides large counties into many PUMAs; LA County, for instance, has 69 PUMAs. And the Bureau combines sparsely populated counties, creating new geographies with sufficiently large populations to allow for calculation of the youth disconnection rate. For instance, Arizona’s Navajo and Apache Counties are joined together in a single PUMA, as are Wyoming’s Sheridan, Park, Teton, Lincoln, and Big Horn Counties. These new PUMA calculations provide first-ever published rates for communities across the country.In addition, to allow for better understanding of the different types of communities disconnected young people call home, we clustered the country’s 2,400 PUMAs into eight community types according to their similarity on two variables, youth disconnection and population density. In Opportunity-Rich Urban America, just 6.6 percent of youth are disconnected. In Rural Opportunity Deserts, more than one-quarter of all young people are neither working nor in school. See page 29 of A Decade Undone for a description of each community type.
Young people are disconnected at rates that range from under 7 percent in some states (North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Minnesota) to over twice that in others, with Mississippi, Washington, DC, and Alaska facing the greatest challenges. Click a state to see how its youth disconnection rate has changed since 2008.
BREAKDOWN BY RACE & ETHNICITY
The youth disconnection rate for whites is lower than the rates for either Blacks or Latinos in every state for which data are available except Indiana and Kentucky. In both states, the Latino rate is lower than the white rate, and in Kentucky the Black rate is the same as the white rate.
BY CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
In the country’s congressional districts, youth disconnection ranges from 3.8 percent in Colorado District 2, in the greater Boston area, to 20.7 percent in Nevada District 1 in the southern portion of the state.
BY METRO AREA
In the country’s ninety-four most populous metro areas, youth disconnection ranges from 6.0 percent in greater Boston, Massachusetts to 17.9 percent in the Augusta, Georgia metro area.
The highest county rate is found in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, 81.0 percent, followed by 76.1 percent in Stewart County, Georgia, and 71.3 percent in Hancock County, Georgia. As you can see from the gray parts of the map, many counties have populations that are too small for reliable youth disconnection estimates. In such cases, refer to the PUMA map above, which shows values for groups of small counties.
BREAKDOWN BY RURAL / URBAN AREA
Rural counties have a youth disconnection rate of 17.3 percent, on average, compared to 11.2 percent in urban centers and 9.9 percent in suburbs.
Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, aims to breathe life into numbers, using data to foster understanding of our shared challenges and support for people-centered policies. We care about human development—the process of building people’s capabilities, improving their well-being, and expanding their opportunities to live freely chosen lives of value.Young adulthood is when people develop many of the capabilities required to live a good life: knowledge and credentials, social skills and networks, a sense of mastery and agency, an understanding of one’s strengths and preferences, and the ability to handle stressful events and regulate one’s emotions, to name just a few. Measure of America is thus concerned with youth disconnection because it impedes human development, closing off some of life’s most rewarding and joyful paths and leading to a future of limited horizons.Disconnected youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school and not working. The youth disconnection rate tells us a lot about the opportunities available to teens and young adults from different racial and ethnic groups and in different parts of the country. Understanding who disconnected youth are, the challenges they face, and where they live is the first step to helping them. Doing so is critical for all of us. Youth disconnection’s harms accrue not only to young people themselves, but also to society at large. Society pays a price in terms of reduced competitiveness, lower tax revenues, and higher health, social services, and criminal justice costs, to name just a few.First, the good news: the national youth disconnection rate fell for eight consecutive years, dropping from 14.7 percent in 2010 in the aftermath of the Great Recession to 10.7 percent in 2019, a 27 percent decline. This translated to roughly 1,700,000 fewer young people cut off from pathways that lead to independent, rewarding adulthoods.Now, the bad news: it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will erase these gains, at least temporarily, cause the 2020 youth disconnection rate to spike even higher than it did during the Great Recession, and exacerbate existing inequalities. Low-income young people of color will be hit the hardest. In addition, even before the current crisis, 4.1 million young Americans were neither working nor in school, and the gaps between racial and ethnic groups remained large. Native American, Black, and Latino young people experience higher disconnection rates than whites and Asians at every income level. Place matters, too: the average disconnection rate in rural areas is much higher than in urban and suburban areas, and areas in the South tend to have higher rates than those in the North. In communities we call “rural opportunity deserts,” one in four young people were already disconnected; school closures, the challenges of online learning, and an economy in tatters will increase their challenges.The maps and graphs above allow you to explore the latest youth disconnection data for yourself. What’s happening in your county? How are different racial and ethnic groups faring in your state? Which places are doing the best, and which ones are doing the worst? Are things getting better, and for whom? Find out!If you want to understand more about youth disconnection, read our latest reports, A Decade Undone: Youth Disconnection in the Age of Coronavirus and A Decade Undone: 2021 Update. Our next report, which will present data for 2020 and thus reflect the impact of Covid-19 on the educational and employment trajectories of teenagers and young adults, will be available in early 2022.
The youth disconnection rates above are Measure of America calculations of data from the US Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey. State, congressional district, and metro area data are from 2019. Time series data are one-year estimates from the relevant year. County and Public Use Microdata Area data are from 2015–2019. Read the full methodological note here.The metro areas featured above, officially called Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), are designated by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Of the country’s one hundred most populous MSAs, six (Boise, ID; Durham, NC; Grand Rapids, MI; Madison, WI; Palm Bay, FL; and Sarasota, FL) cannot be included in the tool because the standard errors are too large for the estimates to be reliable. The full names of MSAs as well as maps of their boundaries are available here.
TAKE THE YOUTH DISCONNECTION
Site created by Laura Laderman, Manager of Data Analysis and Visualization, Measure of America in partnership with Humantific, who provided key visual language and design elements. Video created by Goodnews.