When Good Data Still Does Not Work For All

The 2019 Common Measures: Counting and understanding opportunity youth data across large and small communities

A challenge since the beginning days of the Opportunity Youth Forum has been to find a way to count up, and understand, opportunity youth data across the many varied member communities that comprise OYF. Among our network and organizational values are both ‘accountable impact,’ and ‘community centeredness,’ which for us means supporting OYF members to find the best data, that has the best fit to their unique communities.

OYF collaboratives exist in the largest metro cities in the United States, in large multi-county regions that are both urban and suburban, in geographically large rural areas, and in small rural and tribal geographies.  Some collaboratives focus on tens of thousands of OY, others on hundreds.  Counting opportunity youth has been a problem that pre-dates the OYF, as, by definition, OY are young people that are not engaged in education or workforce systems. Even when we can combine data from these two systems, it’s very challenging to count who’s not involved in both of them – by definition, again, their data is absent.

In 2018, OYF began a process with our partners at Equal Measure to find a common method of counting up and understanding the demographics of opportunity youth within the self-determined boundaries of each OYF collaborative (you can read more about that process here). While each OYF site may have a way of estimating numbers of opportunity youth based on unique local data sets, the challenge was to find a uniform approach that could similarly count OY in each OYF community.  We adopted a method that uses a large, national data set created each year by the US Census Bureau, called the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS creates a valid set of estimates of various community attributes, comprised of geographic areas of at least 100,000 people.

When we launched this work in 2018, nearly all OYF member communities worked in areas of over 100,000 population, and the ACS data yielded a rich and useful look at population-level statistics for young adults and opportunity youth in their communities. The four major benchmarks we track using this approach – called the OYF Common Measures, can be seen at the end of this post, for these larger communities.

However, since 2018, OYF has intentionally been adding more rural and tribal community members, and the ACS data set’s limitations have become more apparent. If you are seeking to make an impact in an area with 5,000 people, it is not helpful to look at statistics for a geographic area that also includes 95,000 you are not focused on!  Further, if you are a small tribal community, and the large census area includes mainly non-tribal members, the data that ACS provides is not just too large, it’s also very demographically different than the specific group you are focused on.

It’s become clear that the ACS data is not an adequate solution for those OYF members serving smaller geographic areas, and so we’ve set out to work with communities to find more appropriate ways to count opportunity youth. To improve the data capacity of our rural, and native, indigenous, and tribal OYF communities, we’re co-designing a culturally responsive data strategy with our collaboratives to define, collect, analyze and interpret, and use their own data to advance equity, promote continuous improvement and demonstrate impact. The goal of our culturally responsive data strategy is to honor the culture and context of our rural communities and native, indigenous and tribal communities while enhancing their capacity to capture and use data that is representative of their lived experiences. To achieve this goal, we administer grants focused solely on data capacity building in rural and tribal areas, provide free technical assistance, and convene a learning community focused on this topic.

2019 Collaborative-Level Common Measures Data

While we look forward to eventually presenting data that includes our rural and tribal communities, in the interim we are pleased to show the OYF Common Measures for OYF collaboratives with larger geographic footprints.

Much more information on the Common Measures, how they were developed and how they are defined can be found here. In addition to what is presented here, OYF member communities already receive detailed demographic data on youth and OY in their communities, including critical information about race, age, gender, nativity, parenting, and more.

The four Common Measures are:

  1. Overall community disconnection rate: The rate of young people disconnected from work and school (i.e., opportunity youth).
  1. High school disconnection rate: The rate of young people without a high school diploma/GED and not working who are disconnected from high school.
  2. Postsecondary disconnection rate: The rate of young people with a high school diploma/GED, without a postsecondary credential who are disconnected from postsecondary education and not working.
  3. Workforce disconnection rate: The rate of young people with a postsecondary credential, but not enrolled in postsecondary, who are disconnected from the workforce.

An infographic of the Common Measures data summary for the entire OYF network can be found here.

2019 represents the most recent year that non-experimental data is available for this analysis. The Common Measures will be updated as new data becomes available.

2019 OYF Common Measures Data

Total # of 16-24 year olds in the community Number of Opportunity Youth in the community Community Disconnection Rate High School Disconnection Rate Postsecondary Disconnection Rate Workforce Disconnection Rate
Austin 276,837 24,203 8.7 6.4 18.7 5.3
Atlanta 72,595 8,767 12.1 24.1 19.2 ***
Baltimore 68,242 9,156 13.4 15.8 23.5 9.0
Boston 113,886 6,167 5.4 12.6 6.7 3.6
Chicago 301,334 36,922 12.3 14.3 23.5 7.4
Denver 76,527 8,101 10.6 12.3 23.3 12.1
Detroit 74,911 16,599 22.2 13.7 54.0 5.3
Flint 21,932 5,149 23.5 18.4 50.1 ***
Hartford 66,038 6,517 9.9 12.2 21.3 1.8
Hawaii 148,082 15,162 10.2 11.7 24.4 10.1
Houston 726,879 93,451 12.9 11.2 29.8 11.8
Los Angeles 451,385 46,001 10.2 10.9 15.5 17.8
Minneapolis / St. Paul 338,185 24,454 7.2 9.9 14.4 8.2
New Orleans 41,443 4,288 10.3 13.5 14.4 ***
Newark 90,122 12,504 13.9 8.9 27.2 15.1
NYC – Bronx Opportunity Network 176,638 31,050 17.6 20.4 25.7 27.3
NYC – Transfer 2 Career 873,395 112,514 12.9 13.3 20.8 14.1
NYC – YES! Bedstuy 17,778 3,056 17.2 13.7 37.6 13.0
NYC – Youth WINS 52,468 4,791 9.1 12.0 11.7 14.1
Oakland / Alameda County 175,361 11,701 6.7 7.4 9.6 11.9
Philadelphia 186,661 22,210 11.9 7.4 23.4 10.6
Phoenix 583,617 67,494 11.6 15.3 25.2 9.5
San Antonio 259,740 32,098 12.4 11.7 28.6 15.5
San Diego 293,995 21,468 7.3 5.6 13.1 11.0
San Francisco 73,607 3,500 4.8 10.9 5.9 3.0
Santa Clara County 205,429 13,526 6.6 10.6 7.8 10.7
Seattle / South King County 92,350 9,571 10.4 15.6 22.7 7.4
Southern Maine 138,219 12,511 9.1 12.0 19.7 1.5
Tucson 142,459 16,783 11.8 11.3 22.6 21.2

Source: ACS 2019 1Y PUMS                                           

*** denotes that the estimate is not reliable enough to report this data.                                                            

NOTE: Denominators of the number of youth included in these rates differ for each disconnection rate.

For technical details of the Common Measures analysis process, please see “Equity Counts: Development of Common Measures: A Brief Technical Guide.”

The Common Measures are just one way we assess impact. Check out more on the impact of the Opportunity Youth Forum’s work over the past decade.