FEBRUARY 4, 2014

We are finding through our work in urban centers across Michigan and the nation that increasing the recovery rate for disconnected youth is the most pressing workforce challenge. This population faces tremendous barriers in completing education and entering and staying engaged in the workforce. In Genesee County, for example, more than 7,000 out-of-school youth (14% of total youth ages 16-24) are disconnected from education and the labor market. Lacking workplace skills or opportunities, these youth face a dismal future – long-term unemployment, poverty, substance abuse, and/or incarceration. The unemployment rate for Genesee County dropouts is 86% – more than five times that for the overall local workforce. Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated in their lifetime; 60-75% of prison inmates are dropouts. The lifetime taxpayer/social burden per 16-year-old disconnected youth exceeds $1 million.

We’ve been impressed by the commitment we’ve seen to tackling these challenges among dozens of stakeholders in both Flint and Detroit. Leadership from the local workforce boards, community colleges, human service agencies, and an array of community organizations want to make scalable impact with this crucial population.

We’ve also been impressed with the philanthropic commitment to these “opportunity youth,” including grant-making strategies by C.S. Mott Foundation, Skillman, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Annie E. Casey, and others. Those philanthropic investments in combination with Clinton-era federal youth employment grants have generated a solid body of research about what works in improving education attainment and employment for disconnected youth.

Up to now, Michigan’s urban centers have lagged many others (particularly on the east and west coasts) in developing scalable, evidence-based disconnected youth initiatives and networks. The hunger is great in both Flint and Detroit, and potentially in some other cities, to learn from those experiences and to build strong, effective networks to serve disconnected youth.

To support that interest, we are undertaking a mix of research and action to:

  1. Catalyze replication and expansion of promising disconnected youth strategies that can be applied more broadly to create outcomes for disconnected youth in Michigan (especially in key communities of focus) and beyond; and
  2. Create infrastructure to compare the outcomes of youth programs in Michigan and elsewhere to identify areas of strength and weakness, and to use data to predict strategies that will be effective.

To learn more about our work to expand economic opportunity for disconnected youth in Michigan, please contact Katie Hall at khall@skilledwork.org


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