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Phoenix Study Calls For New Investment To Help Disconnected Youth

Published: Friday, May 27, 2016 - 11:10pm
Updated: Friday, May 27, 2016 - 11:14pm
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Phoenix has one of the highest rates of disconnected youth in the country.

It’s a term you might have heard recently because it’s become a problem nationwide. It describes 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school and not working.

“Not far from where we are, one in three of the young adults age 18 to 24 are disconnected, they’re not in jobs, they’re not in school,” according to Kim Owens is the founding executive director of Year Up Arizona. “And that’s a pretty significant population.”

Year Up is a national organization that conducts a 12-month intensive training program that gives disconnected young people technical and professional training and helps launch them into their careers.

“There was a study done on some 900 cities in the country and our south Phoenix area ranked seventh in terms of the highest disconnection rates,” Owens said. “So, in our own backyard, these 18- to 24-year-olds, what’s keeping them from being successful? What’s their barrier?”

That’s the question that the city of Phoenix and Councilwoman Laura Pastor tried to answer when they conducted a new study to find out how engaged young people are in Phoenix and what might work to draw them in.

Councilwoman Pastor’s office surveyed almost 400 young people in Phoenix, as well as 40 parents and they held nine focus groups.

Forty percent of young people in Phoenix who they surveyed said they don’t really feel connected to their community. Only 17 percent of the young people they surveyed said they have a job. And almost one out of two said they didn’t think they were being offered the opportunities they needed to become engaged.

These disconnected youth were, then, less likely to be involved in school clubs, volunteering, or outside activities like music lessons or tutoring or being involved in their church, the study said.

The study also asked about the biggest barriers young people reported in becoming involved. One of the biggest was transportation, according to Martin Whitfield, with the city of Phoenix, who help carry out the study. Phoenix isn’t a city like New York or Chicago where public transportation is pervasive, he said. Not having a car can make it really hard for someone to get to a job or to school on time, consistently.

Whitfield is the coordinator of Phoenix’s My Brother’s Keeper program, an initiative created by the Obama administration to create opportunities for young men of color.

“Some of the barriers were home responsibilities, a lot of the kids mentioned that they were taking care of their younger siblings, school involvement was another barrier for them,” he said. “And then the one the kind of concerned our organization is they didn’t know about a lot of the programs and didn’t have access to them.”

He said the city was surprised by this and the parks department and city management are working on beefing up their marketing and outreach.

Owens said Phoenix has a ranks at the bottom of the list when it comes to disconnected youth for many reasons.

“You have to look at factors like youth employment rates, you have to look at the overall employment rates,” she said. “You look at education attainment, and the levels to which the community is educated.”

Less than 30 percent of adults in Phoenix have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to Owens, compared to more than 40 percent in a place like Boston. She said school enrollment is less than 60 percent here, one in five young people is unemployed, and the poverty rate in Phoenix is more than 17 percent.

Disconnected youth is not a new problem, Owens said, but it’s gotten worse in recent years.

“I think anytime there’s poverty, there is a disconnected population. A disconnected population meaning youth mirror those adults that are around them,” she said. “And, in 2007 to 2010, we added about 1 million disconnected youth into our population. We did that when the Great Recession hit. And it hit that age group hardest when it came to employment.”

She said it’s just now that they’re starting to see the needle move in reducing this population of disconnected youth.

The city’s study said the findings call for investment in activities, access to technology and programming for disconnected youth. They’re reinstating $200,000 in funding for programs and services for disconnected youth in next year’s budget, according to Whitfield.

Whitfield said that money will go to the parks department, to adding technology, and he said Phoenix is planning to buy mobile units that can go to city parks and centers with things like video games, fitness activities, arts programs and free wifi.

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