Preparing youth for success at the Southwest Pathways Conference

by Melanie Anderson   •  

For many young people, the American Dream seems increasingly out of reach. It is essential we support multiple pathways that will put opportunity youth back on the road to success.

The Global Pathways Institute at Arizona State University is working to ensure we create and strengthen multiple pathways for opportunity youth. On May 2-4,  the Institute hosted 500 attendees at the Southwest Pathways Conference. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Snap-on CEO Nick Pinchuk delivered keynote remarks.

I was thrilled to speak as part of the opening plenary discussion on why the American Dream is out of reach for so many young adults. The 5th annual Opportunity Index shows income inequality and poverty levels are increasing and community indicators are stagnating, which impedes progress for middle- and lower-income communities. Millions of Americans are being left behind, including 5.5 million opportunity youth between the ages of 16-24 who are disconnected from school and work.

Who are opportunity youth and why have they become disconnected from their communities?

  • Some are teen parents
  • Some have been in and out of the juvenile justice system.
  • Some are former foster youth that have aged out of the system and no longer receive the supports they need to help them succeed.
  • Between 30 and 40% of opportunity youth lack a high school diploma.
  • Opportunity youth are disproportionately male.
  • Three out of every 5 opportunity youth say they grew up in a poor household

Despite their challenges, opportunity youth are are optimistic. Seventy two percent say they will achieve their goals. They are motivated. Sixty seven percent say they want a post secondary degree or credential. They are responsible. Seventy seven percent agree with the statement that getting a good education and securing a job is their own responsibility.

Later this year, Opportunity Nation will release a Retail and Opportunity report, funded by Walmart Foundation, will examine the impact of the retail industry on opportunity in communities and the broader momentum effort that many companies are undertaking to tackle youth employment and the skills gap.

There is emerging conversation about the retail industry’s role in creating high-quality pathways to careers. There are an estimated 15 million jobs in the retail sector, making it the largest private-sector employer in the country. Nearly one-quarter of those employed by the retail sector are young adults in the 16-24 age group.

Melanie Anderson Melanie Anderson is the Director of Government and External Affairs at Opportunity Nation. She directs the campaign’s government relations and policy efforts. Read Melanie's bio.

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