Invest in Our Youth Now: Why 16-24-year-olds Matter to All of Us•
Mark Edwards, Executive Director, Opportunity Nation
In the United States today, 6.7 million young adults ages 16 to 24 are not in school and are not working — a tragic loss to them personally and to our country’s economic competitiveness. The costs are also high to U.S. taxpayers. Disconnected youth cost $93 billion annually and $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes in lost revenues and increased social services.
Even more startling is the impact these disconnected youth have on the economic, educational and civic health of their communities. According to the Opportunity Index, a unique tool that measures 16 factors that advance or obstruct opportunity, the percentage of a community’s disconnected youth is the single most powerful indicator of economic and social mobility. The higher the proportion of youth not in school and not working, the smaller the chance a region has to expand opportunity to its residents. And when young people are disconnected, we all pay the price.
That’s why we consider this population “opportunity youth.” If we invest smartly in education and workforce development programs that provide critical life skills to our young people, we can provide all Americans the opportunity to achieve economic success and contribute to our communities and the nation.
Recognizing the critical juncture we face and the potential of youth to help shape our country’s economic success, Bank of America and Opportunity Nation have invested in programs to reconnect young people to skills, education and jobs.
Bank of America’s Student Leaders® program develops the next generation by providing community-minded high school students with leadership training and paid summer jobs at local nonprofits. The students’ summer jobs provide more than a paycheck. Follow-up interviews with alumni reveal that they learn how to operate in an office environment, discover what it takes to have a career rather than just a job, understand and address local community challenges, and find inspiration to go on to post-secondary education.
Opportunity Nation trains 160 Opportunity Leaders and Scholars across the country on how to use the Opportunity Index in communities and on college campuses. From Des Moines, Iowa to Seattle, Washington to Quincy, Massachusetts, Opportunity Nation’s Leaders and Scholars are convening cross-sector groups to work collaboratively across program areas, engage local media to tell the opportunity story of the region, and make policy recommendations that support more robust education and career pathways for 16-24 year olds.
Last week, in Washington, DC, Opportunity Nation shared the Opportunity Index with 221 Bank of America Student Leaders as a part of a five-day leadership summit. Discussion of the Opportunity Index helped frame the week’s challenge to these motivated young citizens — to explore issues in their own cities — and, through education and community engagement, help to improve their hometowns.
Bank of America and Opportunity Nation are also working to help lower our nation’s chronically high teen unemployment rate and improve communities through other investments in youth. These include Bank of America’s Summer Youth Employment Initiative in 28 communities around the country, and more than $22 million in workforce development and education grants. Opportunity Nation, in partnership with its coalition of 250 organizations, is advancing a bipartisan plan to pair college planning with college savings, engage the private sector more deeply in career and technical education, and ensure that young adults are provided with multiple pathways to secondary education and good-paying jobs.
We recognize that communities have different needs and offer different opportunities for youth that are often best addressed through a local approach. That’s why we invite local employers and nonprofit organizations to join us in our work to connect future generations with the tools they need to succeed: meaningful employment and access to education. It’s a dual strategy we know works. Together, we can help our young people advance and move our nation forward.
This post is part of the ongoing coverage co-produced by The Huffington Post and Opportunity Nation highlighting solutions to the country’s growing opportunity gap. The coverage utilizes the latter’s Opportunity Index, the nation’s first – and only – tool that measures the impact a geographic place has on each individual’s economic mobility. It identifies a comprehensive set of indicators that, when taken together, measure the amount of opportunities available in communities.