A Renewed Focus on Youth

The goal: 90% of youth will earn a post-secondary degree and have a full-time job by age 24. This seems like a natural expectation, and I think most people would say that we can do even better, because our city’s young people deserve that opportunity. But it’s far from the current situation in D.C., where it’s an uphill battle for many youth. A new report  by Martha Ross of the Brookings Institution, one of our KIDS COUNT Advisory Board members, sets out this goal and outlines the steps needed to make it happen.

The report also analyzes Census data to paint a detailed, sobering picture of the 16-24 year olds in D.C. She finds that of this age group, a full 10% are neither working nor in school. The situation is far worse for youth from low-income families. Nearly a third of these young people—about 9,000 young D.C. residents—have no college degree and no job. They also face very limited opportunities to pull themselves up.

Given the low graduation rates for public school in the District and high unemployment rates, this news probably comes as no surprise. But building a pathway to a successful career starts long before high school. The D.C. Council has recently taken up several initiatives that are stepping stones this pathway, including middle school success and truancy.

Middle schools are the most recent area of focus, with Council Chairman Kwame Brown leading the charge. The community, school system and advocates have responded, echoing the concern that we need to do more to ensure the success of students even before they reach high school. (The Council will hold a youth hearing on the issue on November 5, to learn about the District middle schools directly from youth.) The ultimate goal of this focus on middle school students is to prepare them for academic success and a career path.

Ross recommends a multipronged approach: zeroing in on results-driven programs, connecting youth to employers and using data to track students’ progress. She notes that a “college for all” approach is not always the best way, though college should be the focus and goal. For many, pathways are not direct lines from high school to college to job—there are other ways to get there and good jobs are still at the end. The District needs to, and can do more to create opportunities for youth to reach their full potential.