(Photo Courtesy Youth Learning Center Washington, DC)

Nearly one in nine individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working or attending school while others suffer from poor health conditions that hinder their ability to develop physically or socially, according to the District-based personal finance website, WalletHub.
Nowhere in the country comes in as worse as the District of Columbia, according to a new study that ranked D.C. No. 1 in the nation for the most at-risk youth.
“The structure of the economy now encourages older Americans to be in retail, service and other jobs that youth traditionally used as stepping stones to other employment,” Julia Kleinschmit, a WalletHub expert, clinical associate professor and MSW program director at the University of Iowa School of Social Work said.
“There are fewer positions for teens, meaning that minority youth are even further disadvantaged when they look for work,” said Kleinschmit, who added the right words to describe many youths today include “discouraged,” and “disillusioned.”
Kleinschmit asserted that there’s a need to look at racial and wealth structural inequality and do something about that to create room in the market.
To determine where young Americans are not faring as well as others in their age group, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 14 key indicators of youth risk.
The data set ranges from share of disconnected youth, labor force participation rate among young people to the youth poverty rate.
Overall, the District had the greatest number of idle youths followed by Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and West Virginia.
Virginia and Maryland ranked No. 41 and No. 49 respectively.
The survey also found that the District was second among locations with the highest percentage of youth drug users, trailing only Vermont.
The nation’s capital ranked fifth with the highest number of homeless youth.
The news wasn’t all bad as the District ranked 48th in the category of the lowest percentage of youth without a high school diploma and the study found that D.C. had the lowest percent of overweight and obese youth.
So, what can state and local policymakers do to reduce the number of rural youth who are disconnected from school and work?
“In rural communities throughout the United States, the quality of education and the availability of health and social services to support healthy youth and family wellbeing is oftentimes lesser than in other regions of the United States,” said WalletHub expert Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a professor and director for the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the New York University Adolescent AIDS Program.
“School districts in rural areas are generally characterized by high student to teacher ratios, fewer student resources and fewer academic and professional opportunities for youth after graduation,” Guilamo-Ramos said.
“Local economies in rural areas experience high youth unemployment and underemployment rates.”
“While nationally unplanned teen pregnancy has decreased, youth residing in rural areas remain disproportionately impacted by teen pregnancies and births,” he said.
“Those communities also bear the brunt of the opioid crisis, overdoses and deaths due to addiction, —among the youth it have risen substantially in the United States and are a major cause of disconnection for young people,” Guilamo-Ramos said.
WalletHub officials believe the issues that affect young people now will do so later in life if unchanged.
For instance, the study reported that more than 70 percent of young adults today are ineligible to join the U.S. military because they fail academic, moral or health qualifications.
Further, they said research shows that when youth grow up in environments with economic problems and a lack of role models, they’re more at risk for poverty, early pregnancy and violence, especially in adulthood.
To help change the outcomes, Kleinschmit said she’d first ask the adolescent what they really want or like to do — not necessarily for a job or career, but just in general.
“Often, we don’t ask adolescents about their interests in a meaningful way,” Kleinschmit said.
“Even if the answer seems ridiculous to adult ears…listen to them and go with it. Help them identify their direction, figure out a strategy and encourage it.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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