Youth disconnection has been an issue for decades, but during times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the staggering scale of the problem becomes hard to ignore. The Great Recession of 2008 brought much-needed attention to the struggles of opportunity youth, and meaningful work has been done since then to improve the circumstances of opportunity youth and decrease disconnection rates from 6.7 million in 2008 to 4.3 million in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely erased much of this progress. Measure of America, a leading expert on national youth disconnection rates, estimates that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of opportunity youth more than doubled to 9 million in May 2020.
With continued national attention and momentum focused on jobs recovery and economic growth after the pandemic, it is imperative that we recommit to advancing policies and interventions that support improved education, career, and life outcomes for opportunity youth.
In this new report, After The Storm: Policy Recommendations to Reconnect Opportunity Youth during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic, we outline local, state, and federal policy proposals from leading national and local partners in the youth advocacy space. In order to prioritize these proposals, we decided to conduct a series of feedback sessions with former and current opportunity youth. In these sessions, youth ranked and selected recommendations that identify policies that have the most potential to improve education, career, and other life outcomes for opportunity youth.
When we look back on this pivotal moment, we hope that we can say that in our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to advance not just a short-term stimulus but a direct, long-term investment in our young people and communities. Let’s center their lived experience and needs to guide a new trajectory of inclusive and equitable growth and revitalization.
Thank you to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for their support of this report, and for their commitment to uplifting the leadership of young people.