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The youth disconnection rate—the share of young people ages 16–24 who are neither working nor in school—is a strong indicator of a community’s resources and a telling gauge of its residents’ access to opportunity. Of the roughly 39 million young people in the United States who fall within that age bracket, some 4.7 million meet this definition of disconnected—12.1 percent of American youth.

The late teens and early twenties, a period known as emerging adulthood, is when young people develop many of the capabilities required to live a flourishing life: knowledge and credentials, social skills and networks, a sense of mastery and agency, an understanding of one’s strengths and preferences, and the ability to handle stressful events and regulate one’s emotions, to name just a few.

At school and on the job, connected young people come into contact with adults who help them imagine their futures, get their minds around the many different routes to rewarding and well-paid careers, set short- and long-term goals, and lay the groundwork to realize them. Out-of-school, out-of-work youth, who are disproportionately Native American, Black, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI), and Latino and tend to live in low-income communities, also have dreams and aspirations but have far less support to make them a reality. Unlike their more affluent peers, who walk along clearly marked pathways accompanied by knowledgeable guides to help them navigate the transition to adulthood, these young people often struggle to see a way forward.


Source: Measure of America (2023). Ensuring an Equitable Recovery, Addressing COVID-19’s Impact on Education