Arizona has a high percentage of disconnected youth compared to other western states. Young people who are neither employed nor attending school are considered disconnected. Included are teenagers in the age range of 16–19 and young adults from 20-24. The term “opportunity youth” is another name used interchangeably for disconnected youth. The report “Disconnected geography: A spatial analysis of disconnected youth in the United States” concluded that a large group of young people at risk of becoming disconnected are those who need additional social support, including those with disabilities, learning needs, language/communication disorders, and a broad spectrum of those identified with social/emotional needs, individuals whose first language is not the language commonly used in the state or who are not bilingual, and young asylum seekers who lack cultural and social capital.
In 2020, 6.8% of U.S. teenagers between 16 and 19 years old were neither working nor in school. That represented 1.15 million young Americans. Arizona had a disconnection rate of 8.2%, the third highest among the 10 western states. Nevada posted the highest youth disconnection rate at 9.9%, while Colorado had the lowest at only 6.3%. Compared to 12 peer western Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Tucson was near the middle of the pack, with 6.8% of its youth considered disconnected. Within Arizona, Mohave County had the highest youth disconnection rate (15.9%) and Coconino County the lowest (2.9%). Figure 1 shows the youth disconnection rate for select states and MSAs.
Figure 1: Youth Disconnection Rates by State and MSAs (16-19 Years Old ) 2020
The youth disconnection rate rises when we extend the range to 18 to 24 years old. According to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), in 2021, the percentage who were neither enrolled in school nor working in the U.S. was 16.4%. In contrast, the 2010 youth disconnection rate was 19.2%. That represents a drop of nearly three percentage points over a ten-year span, which translates to roughly 800k additional young people with access to pathways that lead to happier and more independent adulthoods1.
Why is it important?
Disconnection from the educational system and labor market during these age ranges might be discouraging and harmful to young adults. Research from The Social Science Journal in 2019 shows that youth disconnection has profound negative consequences for substance use, mental health, and later life earnings.
Youth disconnection is a strong indicator of a community’s potential and a barometer of its residents’ access to opportunity. It correlates with a region’s well-being and the nation’s economy. The cost of youth disconnection for society was estimated by Measure of America, a program of the Social Science Research Council, which concluded in a recent report that if the total number of disconnected youth were reconnected, the federal government would receive an estimated additional $55 billion in tax revenue per year; that’s $11,900 per year per reconnected individual.
Additionally, another recent Measure of America report, found that disconnection is correlated with lower incomes, higher unemployment rates, poverty, worse health condition, and an increased likelihood of relying on government support, and engaging in criminal activity.
Earning a high school diploma or alternative credentials is a proven, first step towards a prosperous future, as shown by the strong correlation between higher education and job security in Updates on Tucson’s labor market article (see Figure 5).
How do we compare?
According to the NCES, in 2020 the overall “status dropout rate” (defined as the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in high school and lack a high school credential) for the U.S. was 5.3%. The status dropout rate in the U.S. increased from 2.0% to 5.6% for 16-year-olds between 2010 and 2020. It also increased from 3.5% to 5.8% for 17-year-olds. There was no measurable change in status dropout rates during this period for 18-year-olds. On the other hand, dropout rates declined from 7.9% to 5.2% for 19-year-olds and from 9.3% to 5.1% for 20-to-24-year-olds between 2010 and 2020. Figure 2 illustrates the national status dropout rates by age between 2010 and 2020.
Figure 2: National Status Dropout Rates of 16-To-24-Year-Olds, by Age: 2010 and 2020
In 2020, girls and young women in the U.S. were less likely to be disconnected than boys, with 6.1% and 7.5% disconnection rates, respectively. The state of Idaho posted the largest difference in youth disconnection rates by gender. For those aged 16-19, the youth disconnection rate for males was 8.1%; while the rate for females was substantially lower at 5.5%. The state of Arizona followed a similar trend, with a youth disconnection rate of 9.0% for males and 7.3% for females. While all peer metropolitan areas posted lower disconnection rates for females than males, Tucson exhibited the widest gap among peer MSAs in favor of females (3.4 percentage point difference), indicating that the latter is significantly less disconnected than males. Figure 3 displays the youth disconnection by gender (U.S., Arizona, and MSAs).
Figure 3: Youth Disconnection Rates by Gender: U.S, States, and MSAs (16-19 Years Old ) 2020
The rates of disconnected youth vary by race and ethnicity across the country. A report published by Measure of America titled “A Disrupted Year: How the Arrival of Covid-19 Affected Youth Disconnection” found that Native American youth were more likely to be disconnected from school and work (23.4%). The state of New Mexico, with a reported rate of disconnection of 32.9% among young Native Americans, was the highest in the nation. This was followed closely by Utah (32.5%) and Arizona (30.9%). Black/African American teens and young adults had the second-highest disconnection rate in the U.S. at 19.6%. Nevada posted the highest rate of youth disconnection among Blacks/African Americans at 27.8%, and Oregon the lowest at 14.6%.
Of the geographies tracked on the MAP, all MSAs and nine states reported youth disconnection rates that were higher for young Hispanics and Latinos when compared to white, non-Hispanic youth. The state of Colorado reported the largest gap between these two groups, at 6.4 percentage points higher for young Hispanics and Latinos. Utah posted the smallest gap with only a 0.5 percentage point difference. Among tracked western MSAs, San Antonio posted the largest gap between these two groups (8.4 percentage point difference), and Austin had the smallest gap (1.6 percentage point difference). Figure 4 shows the youth disconnection rate by race (U.S., states, and MSAs).
Figure 4: Youth Disconnection Rates by Race: U.S., States, and MSAs (16-24 Years Old ) 2020
One consequence of youth disconnection is an increased probability of currently or eventually living in poverty. According to "Data for Persons Defined as Disadvantaged Youth and Adults (2011-2015)" by the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), U.S. Department of Labor, the rate of 16- to 21-year-olds living in poverty or earning less than 70% of the Lower Living Standard Income Level in the U.S. was 11.2%. Among western states, Utah posted the largest percentage of youth living in poverty at 13.2%, Nevada posted the smallest at 9.9%, and Arizona was in the middle of the range at 11.0% (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Poverty Rates for the Disconnected Youth Population (2011-2015)
Among young workers aged 14 to 24 in Tucson, 28.8% worked in the accommodation and food services sector during 2020. That was higher than the state (26.7%) and the U.S. (24.4%). An additional 20.0% worked in the retail sector. The health care and social assistance sector represented 12.7% of jobs held by Tucson’s 14- to 24-year -olds. The percentage of youth workers employed in the professional and business service sector was considerably higher in Arizona and the Tucson MSA, at 9.3%, compared to the U.S. (6.8%). Figure 6 highlights the share of employment for younger workers in Tucson by industry. Click on the drop-down menu to view Arizona or the U.S.
Figure 6: Employment Sectors for Younger Workers Age 14 to 24 (2020)