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One Unemployment Rate Does Not Fit All

A newly released FSG publication, Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth proposes how communities across the country can improve the life trajectories of the nearly 20 percent of our 16- to 24-year-olds, who are not connected to either education or the workforce.

The White House Council on Community Solutions dubs this group of 6.7 million young adults “opportunity youth” both to highlight their aspirations to realize their full potential and to remind us that collectively these young adults represent an enormous opportunity to improve the economic and social health of our nation.

The collective impact approach described in the publication is music to my ears for it taps into resources across public and private sectors to help communities address the needs of their youth population. It also signals a growing sense of national urgency to focus on a group of young people who, thus far have been thought of as liabilities rather than untapped assets for our country.

The opportunity youth population is largely out of school, out of work, and not adequately prepared to take the jobs that the U.S. economy will produce in the 21st century. This group is diverse demographically but is disproportionately made up of males and minorities. There is no doubt that the unemployment crisis continues to affect jobseekers at every level in every demographic segment of the U.S. population. Yet a closer look at labor market trends point to a key finding: The pain of unemployment is not evenly distributed among jobseekers. While the national unemployment is around 8 percent, the unemployment rate for opportunity youth reaches a shocking 18 percent. A report prepared for the White House Council adds that by age 28, only 1 percent of opportunity youth will have completed at least an Associate’s degree—for the rest of the population, the rate is 36 percent.

Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth provides a much needed framework to help communities that are struggling to serve this population of young people. By using a multi-system approach and bringing together various stakeholders including districts, community-based organizations, postsecondary institutions, employers, youth leadership organizations, and others; communities nationwide can design pathways that make it possible for these young people to gain postsecondary credentials that position them to earn family-supporting incomes. Transparent career pathways, combined with a smart alignment of systems and leveraging of public and private resources, would make it possible for opportunity youth to become fully contributing members of society.

Not addressing this issue will seriously jeopardize America’s long-term economic competitiveness.