Disconnected Youth

There’s a problem with our conception of progress in America today. It’s based on money measures and not much else. Measure of America creates metrics to tell us about how people are doing. One fundamental indicator of societal progress and well-being is how young people are faring in their transition to adulthood. And on this measure, 5.5 million young people are falling behind.

Disconnected youth are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. There are 5,527,000 disconnected youth in America today, or one in seven teens and young adults (13.8 percent).

These vulnerable young people are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting us all.


Momentum is growing across the nation to tackle the issue of youth disconnection. From the presidential initiative My Brother’s Keeper to the analyses of pundits and scholars on the causes of civic unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, evidence abounds that society is finally waking up to the costs of consigning five and a half million American youth to lives at the margins of society. And this national crisis seems tame compared to the situation in some locales: in three major metro areas, one in five youth are out of school and work.

But until Measure of America began analyzing the disconnected youth population in 2012, these data were not available. This research is essential to provide policymakers, business leaders, philanthropists, community leaders with the up-to-date data they need to target and tailor their interventions and assess the effectiveness of their efforts.

Measure of America has produced three national-level reports on youth disconnection, most recently in June 2015.

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  • The rate of youth disconnection has fallen since the Great Recession. Roughly 280,000 fewer young people are disconnected today than in 2010, the peak year for youth disconnection during the last decade. Beneath the national rate of 13.8 percent, however, lies staggering variation.
  • Of the ninety-eight major metro areas studied—home to two in three Americans— disconnection rates range from under 8 percent in the Omaha, Nebraska, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, metro areas to over 20 percent in greater Lakeland, Florida; Bakersfield, California; and Memphis, Tennessee.
  • At the national level, youth disconnection rates for blacks (21.6 percent), Native Americans (27.8 percent), and Latinos (16.3 percent) are markedly higher than rates for Asian Americans (7.9 percent) or whites (11.3 percent). In nine metro areas, at least one in four black youth are disconnected. In ten metro areas, at least one in five Latino youth are disconnected.
  • Although national patterns are generally mirrored in metro areas, important variation exists. For instance, a city can simultaneously be among the best for one racial or ethnic group and among the worst for another. The greater Boston metro area, which has a low overall disconnection rate (8.2 percent), is relatively good for white (6.8 percent) and black youth (9.8 percent), but not for Latinos (17.3 percent). In the Chicago metro area, both whites and Latinos are doing better than they are in the country as a whole (7.5 and 13.9 percent, respectively), but blacks are doing much worse (24.5 percent).
  • Our analysis of a very small subset of the direct costs of youth disconnection reveals an astonishingly high cost to taxpayers: $26.8 billion in 2013 alone. This figure comes from summing four direct costs recorded for disconnected youth: incarceration costs, Medicaid, public assistance payments, and Supplemental Security Income payments.