A recent Brooking Institute paper looks at the societally harmful and individually tragic effects of “disconnection”—a situation in which young people are neither employed nor in school. The findings reaffirm the importance of connecting young people to reliable and inspiring support networks at an early age, the crux of our work here at KOC.
Nationally, an estimated 3 million young people aged 16-24 (7.6%) are deemed “disconnected”, cut off from the avenues of self-improvement that school and work provide. In Miami Dade County alone, over 50,000 of our young adults are neither in school nor working, representing a staggering waste of human potential. Disconnection from satisfying work and important schooling is a problem particularly acute among African Americans, a group with “…consistently lower employment rates and higher unemployment rates than other groups.”
In a stirring piece in The Atlantic, Debby Bielak and Jim Shelton point out the consequences of “disconnection” becoming concentrated among low-income Americans: group-based economic and intellectual stagnation.
They cite Pew Research reports that have documented that “Nearly 70 percent of children born to parents in the bottom 40 percent of incomes remain in the economy’s basement—regardless of whether they ‘work hard and play by the rules,’ as so many have been taught.” Our nation’s claim to be a land of opportunity, where anyone with an innovative mind and strong work ethic can become successful, appears to ring hollow for too many. Entrenched cycles of disconnection among low income Americans amounts to a failure of our society to effectively connect opportunities to those seeking them—without an understanding of the types of jobs and schooling opportunities that exist, how can young people begin to pursue them? Real social mobility requires that social and professional networks cut across class lines—otherwise, we are left with a type of segregation that is as accidental as it is destructive and unjust.
Luckily, we are now beginning to understand the problem well enough to effectively address it. The Atlantic piece goes on to cite the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit philanthropic advisory firm’s recommendation to connect “major funders, as well as public resources, with ongoing interventions.” Organizations that are already using “on-the- ground innovations” to produce results, “but at too small a scale, can pave the way for social mobility for millions of Americans.” The go on to say that the highest yield investments will most likely go to programs that help low income Americans: “(1) build skills that will propel them to the middle class, (2) remove obstacles that hold them back, and (3) provide opportunities to transform high-poverty communities.” As the kind reader may have already noted, all three of those goals are at the core of KOC’s mission.
Further, Bridgespan’s calculations also indicate that “in addition to creating a high probability of increasing people’s lifetime earnings, these programs and tools potentially yield aggregate returns of at least $3, and as much as $15, for every $1 invested. A worthy return on investment.”
These are encouraging findings for our young organization. They affirm independently what we have suspected from our founding: that integrating social and professional spheres is the key to unlocking the too-often squandered potential of nation’s youth.