Thousands of Young Coloradans “Disconnected”
No job. No school. Iffy future. About 12 percent of young Coloradans are “disconnected” from education and work. A Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds more than 6 million teens and young adults nationwide are out of school and out of work.
Chris Whatney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, says 32,000 Coloradans aged 16 to 19 fall into the gap. She says that’s a recipe for lifelong struggle.
“When we look at the high number of kids living in poverty in the state, we start to see that these are the kind of trends that, they don’t turn around when kids don’t have the access to any kind of opportunities.”
Whatney says in many areas, there are simply no jobs available, and in others, the skill sets needed for first jobs are more than what is being taught in school. She adds that one in five Colorado kids lives in poverty, and the problem is worse for families of color. The report found the number of young people disconnected nationwide is at its highest level since World War II.
National Kids Count director Laura Speer says early work experiences are part of the “coming of age” process, and explains that a first job is about more than just a paycheck.
“It’s about learning things like, that you have to show up to work on time, how to work with a boss, how to get along with your co-workers, how to solve problems without your parents there to do it for you. These are really important skills that you get with your first job.”
Chris Whatney says that in Colorado the number of “disconnected” kids has actually gone down since 2000, but cuts to education during the recession means the problem won’t be going away any time soon.
“In Colorado, I think, we have a long way to go in making sure kids have the opportunity to succeed in school and stay in school and get a high school degree, and that they’re prepared for the next step.”
Solutions include education reform to focus more on the high skills needed for work out of high school, more assistance for young people to afford a higher education, and micro-enterprise funding for young-adult businesses.
The full report, “YOUTH AND WORK: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity,” is at www.aecf.org.