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April 5, 2022Marketplace

A Disrupted Year: How the Arrival of Covid-19 Affected Youth Disconnection



Cover of the report, which is also a hyperlink to the report.

On the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of teens and young adults disconnected from both work and school in the United States was lower than it had been in over a decade. Between 2010 and 2019, the youth disconnection rate fell 27 percent, driven largely by the steady increase in youth employment in the years following the Great Recession. The 2020 national youth disconnection rate is 12.6 percent, or 4,830,700 disconnected youth—an upward spike that reverses a decade-long trend of falling rates. The rate increase signals a Covid-fueled reversal of the decade-long decline in the share of the country’s young people neither working nor in school. In addition, due to Covid-related data challenges, the report argues that this rate is likely an underestimate of the true extent of disconnection in the first year of the pandemic; in other words, the youth disconnection rate for 2020 is at least this high and very likely higher.

A Disrupted Year: How the Arrival of Covid-19 Affected Youth Disconnection is the latest in Measure of America’s series of annual reports on teens and young adults ages 16–24 years who are neither working nor in school, a group referred to as disconnected youth or opportunity youth. The youth disconnection rate is a vital metric of access to opportunity and societal well-being. People acquire skills, credentials, habits, and experiences fundamental to a rewarding, productive, and joyous life during their teens and early twenties. The youth disconnection rate thus tells us which young people in our society have the chance to lay the groundwork for freely chosen, flourishing lives and which groups face serious challenges in the transition to adulthood. Research shows that being disconnected as a young person has long-term consequences; it’s associated with lower earnings, less education, worse health, and even less happiness in later adulthood. Determining who remains disconnected, and why, is vital to identifying strategies and interventions, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose countless health, educational, and economic challenges. The events of 2020 deprived America’s young people of a host of experiences that would have allowed them to build the capabilities required to live flourishing lives as adults. In addition, the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic has fallen disproportionately on low-income communities of color, which are also disproportionately home to the highest rates of youth disconnection.

A Disrupted Year presents 2020 youth disconnection rates for the United States as a whole as well as by gender, race and ethnicity, region, state, metro area, and congressional district. The report also offers recommendations on how to better serve out-of-school and out-of-work young people.


  • National rate: The 2020 youth disconnection rate is 12.6 percent, or 4,830,700 young people.
  • Data challenges: The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic severely disrupted the federal statistical collection and curation processes. These disruptions resulted in lower American Community Survey response rates not only from the very groups most likely to be out of school and work, such as low-income, Black, and Latino households, but also during the initial months of the pandemic, when the economy shed literally millions of jobs. Although the Census Bureau took several steps to shore up the 2020 survey data by cross-referencing additional government data sources, the Bureau nonetheless released these data with a host of caveats and urged users to exercise caution when making comparisons to previous years’ data. These caveats suggest that the estimates we provide in this report understate the magnitude of youth disconnection in 2020; we believe that the actual rates, in other words, are at least this high and likely higher. That said, these data are still the most comprehensive and reliable available.
  • Gender: As in past years, girls and young women are less likely to be disconnected than boys and young men, 12.1 percent versus 13.2 percent. The size of the gender gap varies by race and ethnicity, however.
  • Race and ethnicity: Nearly one in four Native American teens and young adults are neither working nor in school. The Native American youth disconnection rate is 23.4 percent, the highest of the United States’ five major racial and ethnic groups. Black teens and young adults have the second-highest disconnection rate, 19.6 percent, or 982,900 young people. Black young people have the largest gender gap in the youth disconnection rate of any racial or ethnic group—16.6 percent for Black girls and young women, compared to 22.5 percent for their male counterparts. The Latino youth disconnection rate stands at 14.0 percent, or 1,258,700 young people. In past years, Latina girls and young women were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to be disconnected, but in 2020, the male and female rates were the same, 14.0 percent. The disconnection rate for white teens and young adults is 10.6 percent, the second-lowest rate. White teens and young adults make up the largest absolute number of disconnected youth, 2,087,800 people. Asian teens and young adults have the lowest disconnection rate, 7.3 percent, or 156,100 young people. Rates vary widely by Asian subgroup and gender, however, from a low of 4.5 percent for Chinese and Japanese boys and young men to a high of 18.8 percent for Cambodian boys and young men.
  • Regions: The West South Central region, which comprises Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, has the highest disconnection rate of any region in the United States, 14.6 percent. The West North Central region has the lowest disconnection rate of all US regions, 9.9 percent; it is home to seven states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
  • States: Nebraska has the lowest youth disconnection rate (7.8 percent), followed by New Hampshire (8.3 percent) and Minnesota (8.6 percent). New Mexico has the highest rate (19.6 percent), followed by Alaska (19.5 percent) and Arkansas (17.4 percent).
  • Metro areas: Provo-Orem, UT (6.9 percent), boasts the lowest youth disconnection rate of the 100 most populous metro areas in the country, followed by San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (7.0 percent), and Madison, WI (8.2 percent). Although Madison has one of the lowest rates overall, the rate for Black young people in that metro area is very high, 21.2 percent. The highest youth disconnection rate can be found in Albuquerque, NM (19.7 percent), followed by Bakersfield, CA (19.6 percent), and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX (18.8 percent).
  • Congressional districts: California’s 52nd congressional district, which includes the bulk of the city of San Diego, has the lowest youth disconnection rate (5.3 percent). Michigan’s 14th congressional district, which includes some of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Detroit, is home to the highest youth disconnection rate, 25.0 percent.


For media and all other inquiries, contact us at: contact@measureofamerica.org

A Decade Undone: 2021 Update

To see the most recent data, read the latest report in the youth disconnection series: A Disrupted Year: How the Arrival of Covid-19 Affected Youth Disconnection.



DYReport2021CioverA Decade Undone: 2021 Update, a follow-up to last year’s A Decade Undone: Youth Disconnection in the Age of Coronavirus, presents 2019 youth disconnection rates for the United States as a whole as well as by gender, race and ethnicity, region, state, metro area, county, congressional district, and public use microdata area (PUMA). These pre-coronavirus numbers create a map of vulnerability; they highlight where disconnection rates were already highest and therefore where the situation today is most precarious.

The number of teens and young adults disconnected from both work and school in the United States fell for the ninth year in a row, from a recession-fueled high of 14.7 percent in 2010 to 10.7 percent in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused youth disconnection rates to spike dramatically. We estimate, based on currently available youth unemployment data from the Bureau for Labor Statistics, enrollment and employment data from the Census Current Population Survey, and school closure information, that in May 2020 as many as nine million young people were out of school and out of work, more than twice as many as in 2019. Given the decline in youth unemployment in the second half of 2020, we anticipate that the number for 2020 as a whole will be closer to six million—considerably higher than in the years after the Great Recession. With students physically disconnected from schools and unemployment the highest it’s been since the Great Depression, young people with the fewest resources will be left even further behind their peers and face the highest barriers to reconnection. While it is clear that young people of all stripes will suffer, low-income people of color will be the hardest hit.

In the conclusion to this report, Measure of America identifies thirty “post-pandemic priority counties” where the combination of already-high youth disconnection rates (24 percent and up) and lengthy stretches of virtual-learning education during the 2020–2021 academic year has created an educational emergency. In these counties with high rates of disconnection and school closures, already- and newly-disconnected youth urgently need assistance to close preexisting educational gaps, regain the ground they lost in 2020, reconnect to the education system, and receive the help they need to gain a foothold in the labor market.


  • Nationally: The 2019 youth disconnection rate is 10.7 percent, or one in nine young people, down from 11.2 percent in 2018. The country’s disconnected youth are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty, more than three times as likely to have a disability, more than twice as likely to lack health insurance, and more than twenty times more likely to be institutionalized compared to connected youth. Disconnected youth 21-24 years old are less than half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree as their connected counterparts. Disconnected young women are over four times as likely to be mothers as their connected peers.DYRace
  • Race and ethnicity: Native American youth had the highest disconnection rate (22.1 percent) of any major racial or ethnic group, followed by Black (16.7 percent), Latino (12.1 percent), white (8.8 percent), and Asian (5.7 percent) young people. Across all these groups, youth disconnection fell from 2018 to 2019.
  • Gender: Women had a lower youth disconnection rate (10.3 percent) than men (11.0 percent); however, this gap varied by race and ethnicity. The largest racial gender gap existed between Black young women (13.7 percent) and Black young men (19.5 percent). Native American men’s youth disconnection rate of 23.3 percent was the highest for any race/gender combination.
  • Public use microdata areas (PUMAs): PUMAs are areas defined by the US Census Bureau; they have populations of at least 100,000 people. To create these geographies, urban counties are split into many PUMAs (Los Angeles has 69, for example) and sparsely populated rural counties are joined together. The result is places with similarly-sized population groups that allow for apples-to-apples comparisons. The ten best-performing PUMAs can all be found in affluent sections of large cities or in well-to-do suburbs of major metro areas, and all have youth disconnection rates below 3 percent. The ten PUMAs facing the greatest challenges have youth disconnection rates that range from 28.9 percent to 35.0 percent. Two types of communities are found in this group: low-income, majority-minority neighborhoods in large metro areas, and isolated rural areas characterized by long-term, deep poverty.
  • States: North Dakota has the lowest youth disconnection rate of any state (6.6 percent) and Alaska has the highest (18.7 percent). Washington D.C. experienced the largest increase in the share of disconnected young people, from 10.7 percent in 2018 to 15.6 percent in 2019. Idaho saw the largest drop in disconnection from 13.1 percent in 2018 to 8.6 percent in 2019, a decrease of 34 percent.
  • Metro areas: Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH (6.0 percent) boasts the lowest disconnection rate of any metro area in the country. The highest rate of disconnection can be found in Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC (17.9 percent).
  • Counties: Rural counties have by far the highest average rate of youth disconnection, 17.3 percent; suburban counties have the lowest, 9.9 percent. County youth disconnection rates have the greatest range of any unit of geography. Virginia’s Harrisonburg City, a small city, has the lowest rate of youth disconnection in the country (2.2 percent), while the East Carroll Parish in Louisiana has the highest youth disconnection rate (81.0 percent).
  • Congressional Districts: Colorado District 2, which includes suburbs north and west of Denver, has the lowest rate (3.8 percent). The congressional district with the highest rate of youth disconnection is District 1 in Nevada (20.7 percent), which includes Las Vegas and surrounding towns.

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