The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report last week that illustrates the impact of economic decline in Michigan and the nation on young people. Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, indicates that employment among young people, ages 16-24, is at the lowest point since the 1950s. And, not surprisingly, young people least likely to be in the workforce are without a high school diploma, from low-income families, and racial or ethnic minorities. This opportunity gap begins early and persists. As our young people who have fallen behind become parents themselves, their children face additional obstacles.
We know the inextricable connection between work and education, and there is ample evidence of the impact of higher education levels on employment and earnings. It is impossible to deny that the higher education credential that you earn, the more consistent, stable and lucrative your employment will be. As a state, we can better utilize youth employment resources and strategies beyond a path to workforce experience and a paycheck (both of which are, of course, important), but also as a path back to an education credential. And Michigan lawmakers in Washington, DC are championing this issue through the RAISE UP Act. RAISE UP would provide incentives to communities to blend workforce and education funding in order to connect very disenfranchised young people with workforce and educational pathways. U.S. Representative Dale Kildee leaves a legacy of support for this legislation and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will be supporting its reintroduction in 2013.
And in Michigan, as we despair over our economic woes and the ever diminishing economic opportunity for our young people, we are also evaluating yet another round of education reform proposals intended to improve achievement and graduation rates. The missed opportunity in the current proposals is to provide extra support to the young people who are out of school and out of work. If young people leave school, work a bit and due to the lack of employment opportunity find increased motivation to return on a diploma path, they need a system that will serve them. Michigan currently provides resources for up to six years of high school, but programming for this population that is connected to work opportunity and career-based skill building is inconsistent. Education reform must provide supports to young people who need additional time to obtain a high school credential through alternative options that connect to college or the workforce.
Michigan’s Children has highlighted several great Michigan program examples where communities blend education and workforce resources as a dropout prevention or recovery strategy. Let’s make sure that the most recent incarnation of education reform expands those efforts.