Building a Collective Response to Youth Disconnection
Opportunity youth — those 16–24 years of age who are not engaged in school or work — are so named in recognition of the benefits made possible by a return to school or work and the tremendous potential they hold if given proper supports. Such youth deserve to be a population of focus for the public health community. As a result of their disconnection, opportunity youth face profound short- and long-term negative consequences. Youth who are not in school or employed for at least six months are three times more likely to suffer from depression than youth who are connected to these key supports; they are also one-sixth as likely to obtain a high school or college degree, hindering lifetime earnings, heightening reliance on health and income security entitlements, and increasing the risk of premature death from preventable conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. These individual costs are accompanied by a societal economic impact, with estimates ranging from $26.8 billion to $93 billion annually.
While rates of disconnection have decreased in the past decade, recent data indicate that there are more than 4.11 million opportunity youth in the United States — with disproportionate representation among Native, Black, Latinx, and rural youth — and the expectation is that the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn will increase both overall numbers and existing disparities. Developed within the context of this crisis, the following policy recommendations aim to address some of the multifaceted risk factors behind youth disconnection and propose better alignment of key systems, agencies, and data to support existing opportunity youth. Ultimately, preventing youth disconnection and reengaging opportunity youth will lead to healthier, more equitable and thriving communities.
This policy agenda is intended to serve as a roadmap for advocates, researchers, and policymakers — in and outside of traditional public health fields — but is neither an exhaustive document nor the end of this work. We invite you to explore the full policy agenda and join us in building a collective response to youth disconnection.