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14

The Cost of Disconnection

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YAP's National Policy Director Shaena Fazal is the guest writer in this blog posted in The Chronicle for Social Change highlighting the social and economic cost of "disconnected youth" and what YAP does- and what other communities can do!- to help them change their life trajectories.

Originally published in the Chronicle of Social Change on August 14, 2013

As of 2011, 6.7 million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 are disconnected from school or work. About half are "chronically" disconnected meaning they have not been in school and have not had a job since age 16, and the other half are under-attached, having very limited education and work experience, according to the Civic Enterprise report "The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth."

The fiscal and social consequences of letting these young people remain disconnected will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars and devastate communities, families and lives. Consider these fiscal costs if all 6.7 million remain disconnected: Lost earnings of $65.8 billion each year A loss of $11.3 billion dollars in annual tax payments A lifetime fiscal burden of $1.56 trillion dollars and a social burden of $4.75 trillion dollars. That works out to $235,680 for each taxpayer.

These numbers leave us no choice but to act to improve the life circumstances for disconnected youth. We know that intensive, community-based programs can safely help them connect or re-connect. In fact, in 18 states across this country, these are the young people Youth Advocate Program (YAP) works with every day in partnership with governments and community leaders.

Without help, many of them will end up deep in the juvenile or criminal justice systems or both, making it difficult for them to get a job, go to school, rent an apartment and get a loan when they get out. Some might even end up dead.

One solution lies with the youth themselves. According to another Civic Enterprise report "Opportunity Road," nearly 75 percent of disconnected young men and women are optimistic about their futures, but need help to overcome obstacles.

One example of how we can help disconnected youth build off of individual optimism and aspirations and overcome obstacles is YAP's Atlantic City MERGE Program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. MERGE's goal is to reach males, ages 14 to 24, who live in high crime areas of Atlantic County. Through a collaborative approach with education partners, local employers and City Government young, court-involved men who want to change their paths learn new skills, can attend community college and get placed in jobs.

Youth and young men in this program participate in the evidence-based PATTS program (Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations) and can also choose from an array of other programs to help them learn new skills. Successful graduates of PATTS can attend Atlantic County Community College for free, and upon graduation are guaranteed a job at a local casino with potential for upward mobility.

Of the 154 young men who participated in MERGE, eighty-eight now work in permanent jobs while others have returned to school, are working temporary jobs and have been reunited with their families.

In Chicago, in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools, YAP worked to help youth identified as most likely to be shot or be shooters reconnect to school and stay safe. After three years, and serving nearly 600 students, almost 90 percent of seniors in our program graduated high school, with half of them going on to college or trade schools. Each of our students received individualized wraparound advocacy services, designed to address his or her unique needs, and support their families.

Some students enrolled in our supported work program, which provides a job coach to help support the youth and employer in the employment setting. Despite dire predictions that these youth were likely to be shot, 94 percent were kept safe.

These 6.7 million youth comprise 17 percent of the youth population in the U.S. We can help them connect and reconnect to the people and things that will keep them productive and safe.

The economic argument to invest in them is strong. The personal and social arguments are also strong motivators. Disconnected youth are more likely to remain chronically unemployed, live in poverty and earn wages that keep them living in poverty, have unstable personal relationships, need long-term public assistance, be unhealthy, end up in prison, or dead.

As we have seen in YAP programs in rural and urban communities, investing in the highest risk, most disconnected youth doesn't just save money, it helps youth, young adults, their families and communities be stronger, more successful, healthier and safer.

The Youth Endowment Fund is one example of how YAP connects with opportunity youth. 

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