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Study: Metro Detroit has nation's third-highest rate of "youth disconnection"

A new report says Metro Detroit has a serious problem with “disconnected” youth.

The Measure of America study shows 17%, or more than 85,000, of the region’s 16-to-24-year olds aren’t working or in school.

Using that definition of “disconnection,” the study looked at census data from the nation’s 25 biggest metro areas. Metro Detroit had the third-highest rate of youth disconnection.

Only Phoenix and Miami had higher rates, while Boston showed the lowest level. The study estimated that overall,  5.8 million young people can be considered “disconnected.”

“Many young people today are adrift from school and work—and that doesn’t lay a good foundation for a productive adult life,” said Measure of America co-director Sarah Burd-Sharps. “This is a time when kids are sort of laying the foundation for productive adult life."

Burd-Sharps noted that within Metro Detroit and all the metro areas, youth disconnection varied greatly. There are also big differences among racial groups.

In Metro Detroit, about one in four African American youths can be considered disconnected, Burd-Sharps said. The rates for Latinos and whites are about 19% and 14%, respectively.

Not surprisingly, those rates tend to mirror adult patterns. “In places where adults are struggling with jobs and have low education and poverty is high, youth disconnection is invariably also high,” Burd-Sharps said.

The report has two main policy prescriptions for fighting youth disconnection. One is investing in high-quality, universal preschool education, which Burd-Sharps said is a proven way to boost a child’s long-term prospects—and reduce bigger social costs down the line.

The other is re-building the country’s vocational education programs. “We really need to move beyond this “college-for-all” mantra, to provide meaningful support and guidance for kids who want to take a different path,” Burd-Sharps said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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