Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Challenges: Education, Employment, and the Military

Challenges: Education, Employment, and the Military

Moving toward independence presents youth aged 16 to 24 with a number of opportunities — and challenges. The stakes are high for this age group; 16- to 24-year-olds are forging pathways to postsecondary education, training, and employment, and for youth with additional challenges, these transitions are even more difficult.


  • In 2007, 16% of all young people aged 16 to 24 were high-school dropouts – approximately 6.2 million people (American Youth Policy Forum, 2009).
  • Between 20 and 25% of today's 14-year-olds will drop out of high school; approximately half will return to school and earn their diplomas or obtain GEDs by the time they reach age 25 (National League of Cities,2005).
  • Four years after leaving foster care, 46% of young people lack a high-school diploma (National League of Cities, 2005).
  • One in eight young people never earn a high-school diploma or GED (National League of Cities, 2005).
  • The cost of an effective two-year program to re-engage dropouts is estimated to be approximately $20,000 (Center for Labor Market Studies, 2009).
  • Special education students are more than twice as likely as their peers in general education to drop out of high school (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, n.d.).
  • More than half of youth identified with mental health needs will drop out of school, and only 5 to 20% will enter postsecondary education (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, n.d.).
  • Youth with disabilities are half as likely as their peers without disabilities to participate in postsecondary education (Wills, 2008).
  • Eighty percent of new jobs require at least some postsecondary education (National League of Cities, Institute for Youth, Education and Families).


  • By 2020, U.S. labor demand will exceed the American labor supply by 20 million (U.S. Department of Labor).
  • Unemployment among teenagers aged 16 to 19 was 26.7% in November 2009 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2009). In 2008, young men aged 16 to 19 experienced higher rates of unemployment than young women of the same age (21.2% vs. 16.2%). Young men aged 20 to 24 also experienced higher rates of unemployment than young women aged 20 to 24 (11.4% vs. 8.8%). These are the highest unemployment rates of any age group (U.S. Department of Labor, 2008).
  • In 1989, 57% of youth aged 16 to 19 were involved in summer employment; that figure was 37% in 2008. Employment rates for young people during the summer of 2008 were at a 60-year low (Sum, Khatiwada, McLaughlin & Palma, 2008).
  • Of the 3.4 million dropouts aged 16 to 24 in 2006 who had not reenrolled in school, only half were employed (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007).
  • The median income of a high-school dropout is $18,000, compared to $25,000 for a high-school graduate (National League of Cities, 2005).
  • Unemployment and poverty-level wages are common among youth aging out of foster care and leaving incarceration (Center for Juvenile Justice Reform).
  • Youth with disabilities continue to experience high unemployment as well as insufficient opportunities to obtain competitive employment with the potential of career growth (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, 2004).

Military Involvement

  • About 184,000 personnel must be recruited into the Armed Forces each year to replace those who complete their commitment or retire. All branches of the Armed Forces require members to be high-school graduates or have equivalent credentials such as the GED (U.S. Department of Labor, 2009).
  • The Army Times (2009) reported that 35% of the roughly 31.2 million Americans aged 17 to 24 are unqualified for military service because of physical and medical issues. Within this age group, 18% are ineligible because of illegal drug use; 5% because of a criminal record, and 6% because they have too many dependents under age 18.


American Youth Policy Forum. (2009). Leveraging resources to create alternate pathways to education and employment training for disconnected youth. Retrieved from https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:376316

Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University. Retrieved from http://cjjr.georgetown.edu/

Center for Labor Market Studies. (2009). Left behind in America: The nation’s dropout crisis.  Retrieved from http://iris.lib.neu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=clms_pub (PDF, 19 pages)

McMichael, W. H. (2009, November 5). Most U.S. youths unfit to serve, data show. Army Times. Retrieved from http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/11/military_unfityouths_recruiting_110309w/

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability (n. d.). Guideposts for success (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/sites/default/files/Guideposts-for-Success-(English).pdf (PDF, 12 pages)

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability (2004). Making the connections: Growing and supporting new organizations : Intermediaries. Retrieved from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/sites/default/files/page/2009/02/infobrief_issue8.pdf (PDF, 4 pages)

National League of Cities. (2005). Reengaging disconnected youth: Action kit for municipal leaders. Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/Documents/Find%20City%20Solutions/IYEF/At-Risk%20Youth/disconnected-youth-action-kit-apr07.pdf (PDF, 14 pages)

Sum, A., Khatiwada, I., McLaughlin, J. & Palma, S. (2008). The historically low summer and year round 2008 teen employment rate: The case for an immediate national public policy response to create jobs for the nation’s youth. Boston, MA: Center for Labor Market Studies.

U.S. Department of Labor (2009). Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-2011 edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

U.S. Department of Labor (2009). The employment situation-November 2009.Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_12042009.pdf (PDF, 30 pages)

U.S. Department of Labor (2007). College enrollment and work activity of 2006 high school graduates. Bureau of Labor Statistics News. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/hsgec_04262007.pdf (PDF, 5 pages)

U.S. Department of Labor (2008). Work experience of the population -2008.Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/work.pdf (PDF, 9 pages)

Wills, J. (2008). Preparing all youth for academic and career readiness. Washington, D.C.: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/assets/reports/preparing_all_youth_for_academic_and_career_readiness.pdf (PDF, 63 pages)


U.S. Department of Defense


This site helps young adults plan their next steps in life by bringing together the most recently available information about colleges, careers and military services. Designed primarily for individuals between 16 and 24, the site features information drawn and collated from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, Education and Labor. The site contains information on more than 1,000 military and civilian careers and nearly 7,000 accredited colleges, universities and trade schools, and can serve as a central resource for valuable background on college admission requirements, employment trends and military benefits.

National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (NGYCP)

Eligibility: Youth aged 16 to 18, and 19-year-olds who will graduate before turning 20 – unemployed, drug-free, law-free high-school dropouts
Focus: Education, workforce preparation

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is a federal program operated through a cooperative agreement by the state National Guard that seeks to improve life skills and employment potential of at-risk youth by providing military-based training and supervised work experience so that they may become productive citizens. The program is preventive rather than remedial and targets participants who are unemployed, drug-free, and law-free high-school dropouts, 16 to 18 years of age. Select 19-year-olds who will graduate before turning 20 are eligible. As of August 2009, nearly 90,000 youth had graduated from the program. ChalleNGe is funded by the Department of Defense.

Core components of the ChalleNGe program include: citizenship, academic excellence, life-coping skills, service to community, health and hygiene, job skills training, leadership/followership, and physical training. The two phases of the ChalleNGe program include a 22-week Residential Phase and a 12-month Post-Residential Mentoring Phase.

NGYCP students raise an estimated 1.5 grade level equivalents in reading and 2.2 grade level equivalents in math. Eighty percent of NGYCP cadets earn their GED; nearly double the pass rate of other adult education programs. Thirty percent of NGYCP graduates continued their education. Twenty-nine percent of NGYCP graduates joined the military.

U.S. Department of Education

Pell Grants

Eligibility: Full-time students in postsecondary education

These need-based awards of up to $5,800 annually for full-time students do not have to be repaid, and can be used to pay for tuition and school related expenses.

McKinney Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program

Eligibility: Full-time students in public school

Under this program, state educational agencies (SEAs) must ensure that homeless children and youth have equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as other children and youth. Homeless children and youth should have access to the educational and other services that they need to enable them to meet the same challenging state student academic achievement standards to which all students are held. In addition, homeless students may not be separated from the mainstream school environment. States and districts are required to review and undertake steps to revise laws, regulations, practices, or policies that may act as a barrier to the enrollment, attendance, or success in school of homeless children and youth.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families/Children's Bureau

Chafee Foster Care Independence Program

Eligibility: Youth aged 18 to 21 who are aging out of foster care

Focus: Education and Training

Within the Children's Bureau, the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) seeks to ensure that young people involved in the foster care system receive services and support to help them make a successful transition to self-sufficiency and adulthood. CFCIP provides states with the funding to:

  • enable participants to receive education and training, including vocational training (vouchers of up to $5,000 may be available for postsecondary education and training);
  • provide training in daily living skills, budgeting, and locating and maintaining housing;
  • provide for individual and group counseling;
  • enable former foster youth aged 18 to 21 to receive housing assistance;
  • provide for the establishment of outreach programs;
  • provide each participant with a written independent living plan, based on an assessment of needs, which shall be incorporated into a case plan; and
  • allow participants to remain eligible for Medicaid up to age 21. (approximately 22 states offer this coverage to former foster youth.)

U.S. Department of Labor


This resource for adults and youth provides employment, training, and financial assistance for laid-off workers. It includes resources for getting immediate help with unemployment insurance, healthcare, and other financial needs; job searching and resume tips; changing careers and understanding transferable skills; and upgrading skills through education and training. It also provides career information and links to work-related services that help veterans and military service members successfully transition to civilian careers.

Misadventures in Money Management (MiMM)

MiMM is a cutting edge, graphic novel where you can choose your own adventure in a virtual learning experience that trains future and current servicemembers and their families on how to navigate future financial landmines in a fun and interactive way.

Job Corps

Eligibility: Youth aged 16 to 24

Focus: Workforce development

Job Corps is a federally-funded education and career technical training system administered by the U.S. Department of Labor for youth aged 16 to 24. Job Corps has trained young adults for meaningful careers since 1964. Each year, Job Corps serves approximately 65,000 at-promise youth at 123 centers throughout the country.

The program uses a standards-based curriculum to prepare students for high-growth careers. Job Corps offers the opportunity for youth to earn a high-school diploma or GED, and attend college. Career technical training programs include automotive, health care, renewable resources, and more. Job Corps operates according to eight Career Success Standards or behavioral expectations, which prepare students to transition to the workplace and become contributing members of society.


As a CareerOneStop website, this tool allows youth to explore careers, learn about education options, identify ideas for employment and job opportunities, and find support. The site also includes a toolkit to find local resources and information to find a job, obtain unemployment benefits, or get contacts to help with next steps.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Youth Program

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 enacted a formula-funded youth program serving eligible low-income youth, aged 14 to 21, who face barriers to employment. In addition to low-income requirements, eligible youth have additional barriers to employment: they may be deficient in basic skills, school dropouts, homeless or runaway, foster youth, pregnant or parenting, have involvement with the justice system, or require assistance to complete their education or secure employment. Service strategies developed by workforce providers prepare youth for employment and/or postsecondary education through strong linkages between academic and occupational learning. Local communities provide youth activities and services in partnership with the WIA One-Stop System and under the direction of youth councils and local Workforce Investment Boards. Services include occupational skills training, summer employment opportunities, counseling, internships, job placements, mentoring, tutoring, other academic and vocational education, leadership development, and support services. For additional information on WIA youth services and other youth programs funded by the Department of Labor visit: http://www.doleta.gov/youth_services/


Eligibility: Youth aged 16 to 24

Focus: Workforce development

The YouthBuild program assists out-of-school youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in obtaining their diplomas or GEDs while providing occupational training in the construction industry. Acquiring leadership skills and participating in community service, at-risk youth build and renovate affordable housing within their communities.

Participants in YouthBuild programs include individuals who have been in the juvenile justice system, youth who are aging out of foster care, high-school dropouts, and others. In addition to receiving academic and occupational skills training, these young people develop leadership skills and participate in community service opportunities. Many YouthBuild participants are learning "green" building techniques, assisting with retrofitting existing homes, and discovering how to help make their communities sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Organizations chosen for YouthBuild funding include workforce investment boards, faith-based and community groups, and local and nonprofit housing development agencies. The YouthBuild program was transferred by Congress from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2006. Currently 228 YouthBuild projects are funded by the Department of Labor.

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).