Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Opportunity Youth
  3. Prevalence


This section on prevalence reviews data from before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also provide up-to-date data related to opportunity youth as it becomes available. Find information on current youth employment data during the pandemic.

It is important to understand who has been considered at risk of becoming opportunity youth and which groups of youth have been most affected. Furthermore, it is also important to track the rates of opportunity youth during the pandemic and how these rates are changing. The pandemic has presented more barriers to school and work opportunities and will directly affect most youth, particularly those who are most vulnerable. A recent report from Measure of America, a leading organization in analyzing and presenting data on opportunity youth, estimates that the number of disconnected youth will reach over 6 million youth in the U.S., and potentially up to one-fourth of all youth.[1]

The most recent available data from before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the American Community Survey, shows that from 2010 to 2017, the disconnection rate of opportunity youth in the U.S. significantly dropped from nearly 15 percent to 11.5 percent, totaling about 4.5 million young people.[2] This decrease resulted in 1.3 million fewer young people being disconnected from school and work.[3]

However, this decrease was not equal across groups and regions, and some sub-groups of opportunity youth have increased. Measure of America, using data from the American Community Survey, found that the top three factors for increased probability of becoming an opportunity youth are region/residential environment, race/ethnicity, and income.[4] Other special populations are also discussed in the following summary to highlight that there is no one typical experience of opportunity youth.

Region and Residential Environment
There is a wide range of opportunity youth rates across the U.S. depending on the region and type of residential environment (suburban, urban, and rural). For instance, Figure 1 helps to show that youth and young adults in rural areas have the highest rate of disconnection at about 19 percent, while the New England (8.3%) and West North Central (8.6%) (this includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska) regions have the lowest rates of opportunity youth.[5]

Figure 1: Rates of Youth Disconnection by State

Map of rates of disconnection by state

While the national average of opportunity youth is about 12 percent, the rural south has a rate of 24 percent.[6] Further highlighting this residential environment disparity, individuals from suburban communities (11%) and urban communities (13%) are less likely to become opportunity youth than peers from rural areas (19%).[7]

Race and Ethnicity
Although overall rates have decreased, there are subgroups of opportunity youth who have increased, most recently calculated, from 2016 to 2017. During this time, while all other groups were decreasing, the disconnection rate for Black young people increased from 17 to nearly 18 percent in one year. The group with the highest rate of opportunity youth is American Indian/Alaska Native young people (25.8%), while Asian American youth have the lowest rate (6.6%).

Opportunity youth are almost twice as likely as connected youth to live in poverty. Research suggests that an individual who comes from a high poverty area is significantly more likely (21%) to be an opportunity youth than peers from low poverty areas (6%).[8] Growing up in poverty can expose young people to challenging circumstances such as low-quality schools, unreliable transportation, poor health outcomes, and community violence.

Other Special Populations
It is important to note that opportunity youth can represent multiple backgrounds, meaning there is no one unique experience of opportunity youth. Therefore, an individual may have multifaceted needs from having a disability, expecting a child or being a parent, identifying as LGBT, facing homelessness, and/or being or having been incarcerated. Some of these groups are considered “invisible” among opportunity youth data as they are not yet represented in many data collection systems.[9]

  • Disability: Youth with disabilities are at a significantly higher risk of becoming disconnected from their community. More than 16 percent of disconnected youth have some sort of disability while only five percent of connected youth have a disability.[10]
  • Expectant and Parenting Youth and Young Adults: Youth and young adults who are expectant or parenting make up about 28 percent of individuals who are classified as opportunity youth.[11] Disconnected young women are more than four times as likely to be a mother than connected young women.[12]
  • Homelessness: A large portion of youth experiencing homelessness are disconnected from school as they have experienced significant disruptions in their education. They may experience long periods of time without attending school, which can lead to students not completing high school or beyond.[13] Youth who are homeless often have few opportunities to develop academic or job skills needed to gain employment.
  • Incarceration: Youth who are or have been incarcerated are at a higher risk of becoming disconnected from their communities.[14] Additionally, they are more likely to be disproportionally Black (12%) compared to white peers (7%).[15] While overall rates of youth incarceration decreased by 54 percent from 2001 to 2017, Black youth are on average more than four times as likely to be incarcerated as their white peers, despite being no more likely to commit crimes.[16]


The State of Young People During COVID-19 (PDF, 8 pages)
This report from America’s Promise Alliance examines the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis and the disparate consequences for young people and their families. The nationally representative survey of high school youth reveals their perceptions of the pandemic’s impact on their learning and their lives. The findings suggest that students are experiencing a collective trauma, and that they and their families would benefit from immediate and ongoing support.

Opportunity Youth
This is a set of summarized data about young adults that are neither enrolled in school nor working. This data was collected as a part of the American Community Survey of 2017 and reported by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America
This report from the Social Science Research Council, details demographic information about opportunity youth. This data was collected as a part of the Measure of America study, looking at the breakdown of opportunity youth by region, gender, and race.

Making the Connection: Transportation and Youth Disconnection (PDF, 39 pages)
This document from the Measure of America consists of a detailed breakdown of opportunity youth by region, race, ethnicity, and gender along with outlining issues, trends, and consequences of the opportunity youth experience.

Youth Disconnection: Interactive Data Tool (Measure of America)
This interactive site offers a visualization of the report noted above, with the latest available data nationally, by state, Congressional District, metro area and county.


[1] Lewis, 2020

[2] Mendelson, Mmari, Blum, Catalano, & Brindis, 2018

[3] Lewis, 2019

[4] Lewis, 2019

[5] Lewis, 2019

[6] Mendelson, Mmari, Blum, Catalano, & Brindis, 2018

[7] Lewis, 2019; Mendelson, Mmari, Blum, Catalano, & Brindis, 2018

[8] Burd-Sharps & Lewis, 2018

[9] Mendelson, Mmari, Blum, Catalano, & Brindis, 2018

[10] Lewis, 2019

[11] Burd-Sharps & Lewis, 2017

[12] Lewis, 2019

[13] Borges Martins, Elder, Lewis, & Burd-Sharps, 2009

[14] Lewis, Burd-Sharps, & Ofrane, 2018

[15] Lewis, Burd-Sharps, & Ofrane, 2018

[16] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/

Other Resources on this Topic

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).