A higher proportion of young adults are out of school or not working in Memphis than in any other city in the nation, according to a new report from a research group that studies economic opportunity.
Across the United States, 13.8 percent of people ages 16 to 24 are considered “disconnected” because they are neither working or in school, according to the report. In the Memphis metropolitan area, that number is 21.6 percent — the highest in the country.
The rate is important because young people who spend time out of work or school tend to struggle as adults with employment, incarceration, health and even happiness, according to the report, which was produced by the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project.
The report concludes that some cities are doing far better and far worse than the average at keeping its young people on a path toward school completion and employment — and it argues that residential segregation heightens disconnection rates among young people of color.
In Memphis, one of the nation’s most racially segregated metro areas, the disconnection rate is higher yet for black young adults. Nearly 29 percent of black young adults are not in work or school, while white Memphians are disconnected at a rate only slightly higher than the national average, the report says.
The authors recommend that cities spend more on schooling, develop strategies to support young adults who have left school, and unite community organizations to work toward common measurable goals, such as cutting the racial disconnection gap in half.
In Memphis, an effort is underway to do just that. Seeding Success, the local wing of a national StriveTogether initiative, is mobilizing community groups toward “collective impact.” Last year, the group marshaled local organizations to agree to clear goals — that by 2025, 80 percent of students will be college and career ready, 90 percent will graduate, and 100 percent of college- and career-ready students will start college or a job after graduating. Seeding Success recently won a share of a $15 million grant from StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund to speed progress toward that goal.
“Currently, we’re spending our time, money, and effort fighting the symptoms of youth disconnection instead of addressing its root causes,” the report says. “Knitting disconnected, opportunity-scarce communities into the fabric of our wider society and creating meaningful pathways within them is the answer to youth disconnection.”