An urgent portrait of a neglected group of at-risk young people.
Americans under the age of 25 grab headlines when they launch flashy startups or become activists for social change. However, as Washington Monthly contributing editor Kim argues in her quietly powerful nonfiction debut, the success of such leaders masks an alarming reality ill-served by current public policy: “In 2017, as many as 4.5 million young people” ages 16-24 were neither in school nor working. Social scientists call them “disconnected youth” (or, in Europe, NEETs, for “not in employment, education, or training”), and many of them have aged out of foster care or spent time in prison and lack the support of trusted adults. A vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the author shows clearly how their plight tends to result from years of systemic failures. Some disconnected youth live in rural or urban “opportunity deserts,” which decay as good jobs vanish, or “higher education deserts,” which either have no post-secondary schools or none that teach relevant skills. Others have been unprepared for the transition to economic independence by schools, foster care, the criminal justice system, or government initiatives intended to help them. A striking example of a program falling short is the federal Job Corps, which gives 16-to-24-year-olds room and board in a dormlike setting along with education and training. However, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Corps “could not demonstrate the extent to which its training programs helped participants enter meaningful jobs appropriate to their training.” Among her many and varied examples of successful programs, Kim cites the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, D.C., a drop-in center where homeless young adults can find a safe place to stay during the day—and get food, take a shower, and talk to counselors. Although rich in statistics that support its positions, the narrative is never wonky, and the author enlivens the text with miniprofiles of beneficiaries of high-impact programs.
An outstanding book for policymakers and people who work with adrift young people.