Opportunity Road: The Promise and Challenge of America's Forgotten Youth

by Jessica A. Milano; John M. Bridgeland

Jan 1, 2012

There are millions of youth ages 16 to 24 who are out of school and out of work. They cost the nation billions of dollars every year and over their lifetimes in lost productivity and increased social services. They also represent an opportunity for the nation to tap the talents of millions of potential leaders and productive workers at a time when America's skills gap is significant. The central message of this report is that while these youth face significant life challenges, most start out with big dreams and remain confident or hopeful that they can achieve their goals; most accept responsibility for their futures; and most are looking to reconnect to school, work and service. They point the way to how they can effectively reconnect to education, productive work and civic life. On behalf of Civic Enterprises and the America's Promise Alliance, Peter D. Hart Research Associates undertook a national cross-section of opportunity youth in 23 diverse locations across the United States in August 2011 to learn about common elements in their personal histories and their lives today, and to explore opportunities to reconnect them to work and school. At the time of the survey, respondents were ages 16 to 24, neither enrolled in school nor planning to enroll in the coming year, were not working, and had not completed a college degree. In addition, they were not disabled such as to prevent long-term employment, were not incarcerated, and were not a stay-at-home parent with a working spouse. What the authors found was both heartbreaking and uplifting, frustrating and hopeful. Despite many growing up in trying circumstances of little economic means and weak family and social supports, the youth they surveyed were optimistic about their futures. More than half believed they would graduate college when they were growing up and their hopes remain high that they will achieve the American Dream with a strong family life of their own and a good job one day. For this reason, the authors believe they are truly "opportunity youth"--both for their belief in themselves that must be nurtured and for the opportunity they hold for America.

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