Who are Opportunity Youth?

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    Mellody Hobson talks about today’s youth who, despite their troubled pasts or challenging circumstances, have potential value to our communities and economies.

    What is “Opportunity Youth”?
    Yes. It’s defined as kids and young adults aged 16-24 who aren’t in school or working. They’re frequently referred to as Opportunity Youth because of their potential value to our communities and economies. Nationwide, there are 6.7 million young people (or 17%) who are estimated to fall into this disconnected group.

    And they’re all over the country?
    Yes. Opportunity Youth are disproportionately male and disproportionately minorities. They may have been incarcerated or have bad health. Some have care-giving responsibilities that overwhelm them. And this group is disturbingly large. American teens and young adults have never done worse in the job market than they have in this century.

    Why is this such a growing issue?
    The first problem is that the economy is simply not producing enough jobs.  Some 22 million jobs were created in the 1990s in the U.S.  Since 2000, about two and a half million new jobs have been created on balance. That’s about twenty million fewer than the precious decade. And those harder to get jobs are paying less to boot: For young men aged 16 to 24, the average salary is about 29% lower adjusted for inflation than in 1973, and for women, it’s about 17% lower. The worst part is that those are the lucky ones: Unemployment of young people is at a historic high and communities across the country are in search of solutions that can help reverse the trend.

    Can it be reversed?
    Well, the good news is that this under-served group is eager for help. There was an optimistic survey by the Social Sciences Research Council that found the majority of Opportunity Youth are hopeful about the future and claim responsibility for their lives. Specifically, 77% of those surveyed believe that getting a good education and a good job is their own responsibility and whether they succeed depends on their own effort, and 73% of Opportunity Youth are confident or hopeful in their ability to achieve their life goals. Enthusiasm and a willingness to work are a great place to start, especially when you consider the extraordinary challenges these young people face.

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