Opportunity Youth

8.5% of 16-24 year-olds are not enrolled in school and are not working

Indicator: Opportunity Youth are 16-24 year-olds who are not enrolled in school and are not working.

Progress: 8.5% of 16-24 year olds in Travis County are not enrolled in school or working. This is 11,890 youth.

Indicator Definition: The percentage of the population ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school and who are not working.

Data Source: OpportunityIndex.org Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey PUMS Microdata and custom tabulations for county and county equivalents provided by special arrangement with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data Considerations: The Opportunity Youth definition may be expanded to include youth who are insufficiently connected to school or jobs (e.g., two years or more behind in coursework; in and out of postsecondary institutions; or underemployed in part-time or low-wage jobs).

Significance of indicator: Each year, over one million American youth become disconnected from the systems that are designed to educate and prepare them for their future. Known as Opportunity Youth, this population totals approximately 4 million in the United States and is comprised of youth who are between the ages of 16 and 24 and are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.1 They are called Opportunity Youth as a reflection of the optimism they have for finding a pathway to economic stability, and as a reminder that investing in their futures represents an immense opportunity for employers and the nation. By improving outcomes for this population, businesses and communities have the potential to increase savings for society, improve the quality of talent available to employers, and interrupt a multigenerational cycle of poverty for youth and their families.

1 Belfield, C., Levin, H. and Rosen, R. (2012), The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth in association with Civic Enterprises for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The story behind the data

Significant momentum is building around improving outcomes for Opportunity Youth. With strong leadership from the White House, there is increased national attention and targeted resources focused on this population. Together with a growing body of research and the promising work of existing programs and partnerships around the country, it is clear that the time is ripe for putting Opportunity Youth at the top of our collective agenda.

Opportunity Youth can become disconnected from education or career opportunities at various ages and stages in their lives and for a variety of reasons. Some may face personal challenges that lead them to drop out of school, including a lack of role models or positive social and emotional support, having feelings of “not belonging” or being unwanted, or having family or parenting responsibilities. Yet too often, the challenges that these youth face relate to a failure of the systems designed to support them — for instance, a mismatch between available education options and a youth’s needs and goals, policies that focus disproportionately on discipline over rehabilitation, a lack of special services that allow youth to remain engaged (such as childcare or transportation), or educational disruptions caused by involvement with the foster care or juvenile justice system coupled with a deficiency of on-ramps provided to get youth back on track. These challenges can vary significantly for each individual, but must be examined and understood if the Central Texas community is to effectively meet the needs of the local population of Opportunity Youth.

To read the FSG report about Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth, click here.

Some local efforts to improve this indicator

In March 2013, the Austin community was one of 36 U.S. communities invited by the Aspen Institute to apply for a system-building grant issued through the Aspen Opportunity Youth Investment Fund, with Workforce Solutions – Capital Area Workforce Board as the recommended backbone agency to make a long-term commitment to sustaining collective impact efforts targeted toward the Opportunity Youth population. In response, the AOYC was formed, with the first meeting held on April 1, 2013.

The collaborative has determined that the first phase of work will prioritize three key subpopulations that face exceptional challenges in navigating a clear pathway to career success and civic engagement. These populations include: parenting teens, youth aging out of foster care and court-involved or ex-offender youth.

Between July 1, 2013, and June 20, 2014, the AOYC expects to achieve the following infrastructure-related outcomes:

  1. Creation of the cross-sector Steering Committee and committees to build the infrastructure for a sustained collective impact approach.
  2. Confirmation of subpopulations to focus energy and resources on
  3. Establish baseline number of Opportunity Youth earning post-secondary credentials and attaching to the labor market in order to set targets for system implementation.
  4. All AOYC partner career pathways will identify Opportunity Youth in their data collection.

Based on the history of outcomes achieved by existing career pathways among local partners, we would expect that, for every 5 career-seeking Opportunity Youth entering the AOYC’s system, 2 would successfully earn a high school diploma or GED, matriculate to college or find employment. This could potentially mean as much as a 40% decrease in the engaged Opportunity Youth population – or an estimated 383 Opportunity Youth per year entering the system who successfully achieve one of three goals for credential attainment.

In Travis County, there were 1,057 births to mothers ages 15-19 without a high school diploma or high school of record. Another 391 mothers had completed high school in the same age range. Hispanic teens constitute the majority of births with an 82% share for those who do not have a high school diploma and 68% for those who do.

Capturing accurate data on the number of youth aging out of foster care who are in Travis County is challenging because so many may be in caseloads elsewhere across the state but opt to come here. Current data including Travis County Child Protective Services and service provider data indicate that between 350-500 youths age out annually and seek services through the After Care Transitional Services (ACTS) program.

In 2011, over 2,200 youth were referred to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in Travis County, 1 in 4 of these youth were referred with a diagnosed mental illness.


Austin Opportunity Youth Collaborative

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Ready by 21 (RB21) and the RB21 logo are registered trademarks of the Forum for Youth Investment. The Central Texas RB21 Coalition is a member of the Forum’s RB21 Learning Network. The Central Texas RB21 online dashboard is currently sponsored by Workforce Solutions — Capital Area Workforce Board, the Community Advancement Network (CAN) and the City of Austin, with content and data contributions from over 20 local youth-serving coalitions.