At this moment, the role of community-based organizations (CBOs) has never been more important. The country is facing a dual crisis in youth unemployment and low postsecondary completion rates. Both are especially prevalent among low-income and minority young people. Across the nation, nearly 7 million young people are neither in school nor part of the labor market—17 percent of people ages 16 to 24. This group includes both those who have a high school credential but have not continued into postsecondary education and/or the workplace, and those who have left school without a high school diploma and have few if any educational or job prospects. Federal support for local education and career-related services reaches less than 10 percent of these young people. While most young people are aware of the connection between education and employment and have aspirations to succeed in both, young people in the group described above typically find themselves with very limited opportunities. The lost potential in these young people has enormous costs to our economy and our communities for many years to come.
This paper shows the vital role of community-based organizations in addressing this dual crisis. The ideas and examples presented here are based on the groundbreaking work of four community-based organizations in California that participated in Opportunity Links for Youth, an initiative supported by the James Irvine Foundation. With support from Jobs for the Future, these CBOs are tackling the essential work of helping 18 to 25 year olds develop the skills and credentials they need for entry into and advancement in growth sectors of the economy.