After a Decade of Progress, Pandemic Could Reset the Clock on Youth Disconnection

August 10, 2020

Measure of America

Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, recently released "A Decade Undone: Youth Disconnection in the Age of Coronavirus," its eighth annual report on U.S. young people aged 16 to 24 who are neither working nor in school. It found that the youth disconnection rate had steadily fallen for eight years in a row, from a recession-fueled high of 14.7 percent in 2010 to 11.2 percent in 2018, the most recent year for which data are available through the American Community Survey. But now, with schools shuttered and classes online across the country, more than 40 million people filing for unemployment, and an unstable economy, Measure of America predicts the COVID-19 pandemic will erase those gains completely and the disconnected youth rate will spike even higher than it did during the Great Recession.

The 2018 youth disconnection rate was 11.2 percent, or one in nine young people. A Decade Undone breaks down this figure by race and ethnicity, gender, and various geographic delineations, including states, counties, congressional districts, metro areas, and for the first time, public use microdata areas (PUMAs), a Census Bureau-defined geography of at least 100,000 people. The numbers and trends in the report, based on pre-coronavirus data, provide a map of vulnerability indicating where disconnection rates are highest and which communities are most at risk of being further left behind as a result of the pandemic.

“At the height of the Great Recession, the youth disconnection rate was approximately one in seven. As a result of COVID-19, that figure could rise to one in five or even one in four teens and young adults,” said Kristen Lewis, Director of Measure of America. “As the U.S. moves toward recovery, we cannot forget about young people from our most disadvantaged, disenfranchised communities. The pandemic is leaving teens and young adults with the fewest resources even further behind their peers.”


Race and ethnicity
Native American youth had the highest disconnection rate (23.4 percent) of any major racial or ethnic group, followed by Black (17.4 percent), Latino (12.8 percent), white (9.2 percent), and Asian (6.2 percent) young people. Latino young people continued to make the most significant strides, with disconnection down 30 percent since 2010.

Women had a lower youth disconnection rate (10.8 percent) than men (11.5 percent); however, this gap varied by race and ethnicity. The largest racial gender gap existed between Black young women (14.8 percent) and Black young men (19.9 percent). Native American women’s youth disconnection rate of 24.8 percent was the highest for any race/gender combination.

There are wide gaps in disconnection rates among the country’s approximately 2,400 PUMAs. Using PUMAs is one of the most accurate ways to draw “apples to apples” neighborhood comparisons. Some affluent areas of large cities or well-to-do suburbs had youth disconnection rates below three percent; the ten PUMAs facing the greatest challenges had youth disconnection rates ranging from 29.8 percent to 36.1 percent and were either in lowincome, majority-minority neighborhoods in large metro areas or isolated rural areas characterized by long-term, deep poverty. Several PUMAs across the country with distinctly different characteristics had similar youth disconnection rates.

Civic Engagement
Young people overall came out to vote in 2018 in greater numbers than in 2014, but states with higher rates of youth disconnection saw smaller increases in youth voter turnout. For every percentage point higher a state’s disconnection rate is than another’s, its voter turnout rate increase was 1.3 percentage points lower, on average.

Other Characteristics
Disconnected youth are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty, more than three times as likely to have a disability, and nine times as likely to have dropped out of high school. Connected youth between 21 to 24 years old are more than twice as likely to have a bachelor’s degree (22.4 percent) as their disconnected counterparts (8.9 percent).

“Even as youth disconnection rates improved over the last decade, our analysis has shown consistent and major disparities along racial, ethnic, and geographic lines,” said Rebecca Gluskin, Deputy Director and Chief Statistician at Measure of America. “Youth disconnection will only continue to grow with the unemployment rate, and communities across the country need consistent and targeted resources in order to weather the storm.”

Back to Listing