The Kids Are Not All Right

Feb 10, 2020 by

Millions of young adults aren’t in school, don’t have jobs, and are ignored by policy makers.

by Alex Kotlowitz –

A young man I know, from a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, managed to do something many of his peers did not: graduate from high school. He did so in part because he had access to a range of support services. This young man, whom I’ll call Ricky, regularly saw a social worker and had a mentor through an after-school program. He had teachers who nudged him along. And when it got heated in his neighborhood, he could remain in the school building after classes, which offered him a degree of safety. But after he graduated, that support fell away. No counseling, no place of refuge, no jobs. He began to carry a gun for self-protection.

When I saw him recently, he had just gotten out of prison after serving six months on a gun charge. Yet again, there were no services available to him, no one to help him get his feet back on the ground or help him find a job. The one program he approached, which offers employment and counseling to men in their 20s, had no spots available. He was, like the young people Anne Kim writes about in her new book, Abandoned, completely on his own, adrift like flotsam in the sea.

Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection by Anne Kim The New Press, 208 pp.

Near the beginning of her remarkably important book, Kim, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute (and a contributing editor to this publication), offers a startling statistic: In 2017, 4.5 million young people ages 16 to 24 were like Ricky, without a job and not in school. These people were, as Kim writes, “disconnected” from society, without support of any kind. Abandoned is, in essence, an extended argumentative essay, suggesting that we have structurally and systematically failed a population of young people who, because of class, race, or geography, have little opportunity and often face a system that is stacked against them.

In recent decades, policy makers have recognized early childhood as a critical developmental period. Yet emerging science indicates that young adulthood may be just as significant. Early adults’ brains are still developing, and, as Kim writes, it’s an important transition time, when one learns to live on one’s own. Universities and colleges provide support for young people who are fortunate enough to attend. But we’ve done little to help young people who come from families of limited means. And young adults emerging from foster care or the criminal-justice system are in an especially difficult situation, often released without guidance or support. “This abandonment not only worsens the divergence in the individual fortunes of young people,” Kim writes, “but also contributes to the widening gaps in income, wealth, and opportunity that have increasingly become a concern for policymakers.”

Kim lays out the problem in the first half of the book, and offers possible solutions in the second. She writes with a quiet anger. Her sentence-by-sentence dissection of a system that isn’t working for so many reveals a place where policy makers could, with a little ingenuity (and, of course, money), make a big difference in the country’s growing inequality.

Source: The Kids Are Not All Right | Washington Monthly

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