Impact of the Opportunity Youth Forum

Opportunity Youth

There are about 4.4 million opportunity youth  – defined as young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market –  about one in nine members of this age group in the United States.

However, the chances that a young person will be disconnected from school and work at some point between the ages of 16 and 24 are much higher, according to Jobs For The Future:  “Nearly 40 percent of our young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are weakly attached or unattached to school and work at some point during that formative stretch of their young lives.”

Despite young people’s aspirations to advance and secure educations and obtain family wage jobs – and engage with and and improve their communities – once they have experienced disconnection from school and work, it’s very unlikely they’ll be able to meet these aspirations, as only 1 percent of youth who’ve been disconnected will ever earn an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 36 percent of the general population. And the data is clear: a large majority of today’s and the near future’s family-supporting wage jobs will require some kind of training or credential beyond a high school degree.

The Opportunity Youth Forum

Since 2012, the Opportunity Youth Forum has sought to improve the education and workforce attainment, and well-being of opportunity youth.

Our nation has made great progress over this period; From 2011 to 2018, the numbers of opportunity youth in the United States decreased by more than 1 million young people, a reduction of nearly 25%.1

OYF member communities, which range from large urban centers to small rural and tribal communities, are home to 3.4 million young adults, including the 400,000 opportunity youth they most closely focus on.

Our most recent data shows that at least 44,000 opportunity youth are receiving direct supporting services each year from OYF community partners; these same partners report 19,000 significant outcomes – such as attaining high school or college degrees, or getting a job – among young people served.2

These numbers add up to big dividends for young people and for our whole society. If only half of the youth receiving direct supports by OYF members each year – 20,000 youth  – are helped to complete education or get jobs per year, that conservatively results in $2 billion in direct savings to taxpayers over the lifetimes of those young people (and another $4 billion in reduced social costs).3 And that is true for each year OYF members do this work!

Strong local opportunity youth collaboratives are essential to making this progress happen. Independent evaluations by Equal Measure saw OYF collaboratives make changes to the key systems impacting opportunity youth throughout the 2010s.4 Additionally, we’re seeing that the organizational capacity of collaboratives matters, and that the longer collaboratives are part of OYF, the more likely they see local systems improve.

Specifically, the most recent OYF evaluation showed evidence that:

  • OYF network members that had been participating consistently in the network over the past five years were twice as likely to see strong evidence of success related to systems-level improvements for youth than other network members.5
  • Evaluation of the Opportunity Youth Forum shows that those collaboratives with stronger organizational capacities achieved more local systems changes that support OY.6

For detailed data on the OYF network and its member capacities and systems change work, please see the most recent evaluation of the OYF network by Equal Measure: The Opportunity Youth Forum: Forging a National Network to Advance Equitable Systems Change.



[1] Measure of America. A decade undone.

[2] Equal Measure. OYF 2019 evaluation report.

[3] Equal Measure. OYF annual evaluation reports; and Civic Enterprises. The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth.

[4] Equal Measure.  OYF 2017 evaluation report.

[5] Equal Measure. OYF 2019 evaluation report.

[6] Equal Measure.  OYF 2019 evaluation report.