data points

Five graphs that show the challenges facing New York City’s ‘disconnected’ young adults

PHOTO: Getty Images

The share of young adults in New York City who are jobless and out of school has fallen over the past five years, according to a new report, owing partly to a rebounding economy and higher college enrollment.

But roughly 17 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24, or more than 136,000 people across the city, are still considered “disconnected” — both out of school and out of work.

That’s according to a new report jointly released by the Community Service Society and JobsFirstNYC, which have closely tracked young people who neither work nor go to school. The report is a follow-up to a similar study the two organizations conducted in 2010 as the country was still reeling from the recession.

The latest report offers a more encouraging picture. But it also reveals some worrying trends: More young adults have jobs, but they’re mostly part time. A larger number of students are enrolling in college, but they also often leave before earning a degree. Moreover, the young adults who are still out of school and jobless are likely even harder to serve.

“The out of school/out of work population is much smaller but there are also higher barriers to success,” said Lazar Treschan, a youth policy expert at the Community Service Society and one of the report’s authors.

Here are six pieces of data from the report that show who is out of school and out of work — and some of the biggest challenges they face.

1. The proportion of young adults who are out of school and out of work has been trending downward since the recession. Seventeen percent of the city’s young adults were jobless and out of school in 2015, down from 22 percent in 2010.

2. The share of disconnected young people has been falling for every racial group, but black and Latino students are still more than twice as likely to be out of school and jobless than their white and Asian peers.

3. A big reason fewer young adults are out of work is the economy is improving. But most of the job growth has been in part-time employment, jobs that are lower-paying and come with fewer benefits. “Despite overall job growth, there has been no net increase whatsoever in full-time jobs for 18- to 24-year-olds,” the report notes.

4. The percentage of the city’s students who are over 18 and still in high school has been falling — and the biggest drops are among students from low-income families, according to the report.

5. College readiness rates have increased, and more young adults are going to college. But many of them are going to college without earning degrees, potentially leaving them in debt. The number of young adults “who have started college but left before completing any type of degree has grown from under 50,000 in 2005 to nearly 70,000 today,” according to the report.

6. The young adults who continue to be out of school and jobless are harder to serve. Kevin Stump, a vice president at JobsFirstNYC who contributed to the study, noted that the young adults who have not found jobs or enrolled in school during the economic recovery “are harder to find and face even more difficult barriers.”

Though the report doesn’t present hard data to back up that assertion, its authors interviewed service providers who “cite a higher concentration of young people with low levels of literacy, mental health concerns, histories of trauma, criminal justice involvement, and severe housing instability in their programs today than five years ago,” according to the report.

You can read the full report and its recommendations here.

chronically absent

‘We’re doing it to help all of us’: In Newark, student-researchers ask their peers why they miss school

PHOTO: Chalkbeat/Patrick Wall
Members of the New-Ark Leaders of Health research team. From left: Hansier Rodriguez, Kutorkor Kotey, KryJuan Roberson, Eric Bellamy, Israel Alford, Kayla Killiebrew, Simone Richardson, and Asiyah Marti.

With one in three Newark students considered chronically absent last year, a team of researchers has set out to discover why so many students are missing so much school.

To solve that riddle, the team has held focus groups and surveyed high school students at summer school programs, churches, and supermarkets. Many researchers have conducted similar studies, but this team is different — it includes students interviewing their peers about their shared struggles with attendance.

“We’re speaking in a language they understand,” said Manuel Mejia, a sophomore at Rutgers University-Newark who attended Newark’s Arts High School. “We’re not here to research them as a separate group — we’re doing it to help all of us.”

The research team includes students from Newark’s traditional, charter, and county-run high schools, alongside students from Rutgers University-Newark. They are part of a Rutgers-based program, called New-Ark Leaders of Health, where students aged 14 to 21 research public-health challenges and propose solutions.

Earlier this year, the 17-member team decided to focus on absenteeism. They considered it a matter of public health because of the dire consequences for chronically absent students, who tend to have lower grades and higher dropout rates, and are at greater risk of entering the criminal-justice system and facing poverty as an adult.

Newark suffers from unusually high rates of chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of days in a school year — the equivalent of about a month of class. Unlike truancy, which refers to unexcused absences, this category includes anytime a student misses school — whether because of illness, a suspension, transportation difficulties, or other causes.

Last year, 33 percent of students were chronically absent. In the first three months of this school year, about 22 percent of students already are, with more likely to join them as attendance typically dips as the year wears on. And yet, because absences can accumulate gradually as students miss a few days one week then another day weeks later, many never realize the academic danger they’re in.

“I was basically chronically absent and I did not know,” said student-researcher Kutorkor Kotey, an 11th-grader at Bard High School Early College Newark, who said she missed several days one month. “Our main focus is to bring awareness to people.”

The research project was funded through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Rutgers-based group that provides leadership training to Newark families and students. The students who were selected to participate earn a small stipend.

Attendance in Nov. 2018 | Green = rarely absent | Yellow = frequently absent | Orange = chronically absent | Red = severely chronically absent | Credit: Newark Public Schools

In the spring, the team submitted a research plan to an institutional review board at Rutgers. After they tweaked a consent form to make it easier for high schoolers to read, the board approved it. By then it was summer, so the team targeted students in summer school and out in the community. They administered about 100 surveys and held two focus groups.

The student-researchers focused on high schoolers partly because those are their peers. But that is also the age also when chronic absenteeism spikes. Last year, nearly 40 percent of ninth-graders were chronically absent — a risk factor that greatly diminishes their odds of graduating on time.

To the average adult, that might sound like lots of students playing hooky. But the researchers knew from personal experience that many absent students would like to attend school — yet an array of obstacles often stand in their way.

“There’s always this narrative that people from Newark are perceived to be, from an outside perspective, lazy, poor, drug-ridden, and that’s why people are chronically absent,” said Simone Richardson, a Rutgers senior who helped lead the research team. “But what we’ve seen is that a lot of it is because of these oppressive structures.”

The researchers uncovered a heap of reasons why high schoolers miss school, from dentist appointments to unreliable city buses and concerns about gang violence on the path to school — or once they arrive. Often they are grappling with adult responsibilities, such as getting younger siblings to class or working after-school jobs, that make it hard to show up to school on time or at all.

One of the researchers, Eric Bellamy, who is in the 12th grade at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, described his own struggle to balance school and work. After classes end at 2:40, he rushes to a downtown seafood restaurant where he works as a cook and server from 3 to 9 o’clock, he said. It’s often 10 p.m. before he’s taken the bus home and can even think about homework.

As one of nine siblings, he said, he cannot rely on his mother to help pay for school-related expenses like a tuxedo and photos for prom.

“I’m not going to depend on my mom,” he said. “So I just have to thug it out and continue with the job.”

In some cases, schools themselves deter students from attending. Bellamy said school can sometimes feel like jail — “a cell that has more freedom,” as he put it. Other students mentioned strict uniform policies, unappetizing lunches, or ineffectual teachers that make them want to say away. Still others cited school policies that mark students absent after they have been late several times, and that block students with multiple absences from participating in extracurricular activities or even lead to suspensions, perversely adding to the days away.

“Schools don’t really get down to why that student is late,” said Israel Alford, a Rutgers senior who coordinates the research project. “Rather, they jump to, ‘Hey, let’s just punish this kid, maybe that will motivate them to come on time.’”

One of the main factors that the team heard time and again was mental health. Many students said they were coping with trauma or battling anxiety or depression. School guidance counselors are often overworked and under-qualified to address students’ mental-health needs, they said. Meanwhile, the schoolwork they must manage alongside their other responsibilities just adds to the stress.

Kayla Killiebrew, a 12th-grader at a charter high school run by North Star Academy, said she sometimes babysits her younger nephew on the weekends, which prevents her from completing her homework.

“Then I wake up in the morning stressed and I don’t want to go to school,” she said, explaining that she dreads having to tell her teachers she didn’t do her work. “There’s just so many factors in school that will add onto the stress I’m already having. So I’d rather just stay home and deal with it.”

The team is planning to conduct another round of surveys in high schools early next year, but first the group needs the district’s permission. They are hoping the new superintendent, Roger León, will sign off since he has said improving attendance will be cornerstone of his agenda.

Once the student researchers have finished gathering and analyzing their data, they intend to publish their findings along with policy recommendations. Their mission is to make sure that student voices inform any plan to improve attendance in Newark.

“Students know why they’re chronically absent,” Alford said. “The problem is that no one’s asking them.”

Future of Schools

Chicago’s mayoral hopefuls are starting to release education plans. Here’s what we know so far.

Clockwise from top left, candidates for Chicago mayor Toni Preckwinkle, Susana Mendoza, Amara Enyia, Bill Daley and Paul Vallas.

Signaling that a smart education plan could make or break Chicago mayoral hopefuls, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza seized her moment in front of an influential breakfast audience of Chicago business and civic leaders Tuesday to deliver a rescue plan for struggling neighborhood schools.

Mendoza’s 50 NEW Initiative — NEW stands for Neighborhood Education Works — would turn 50 underenrolled schools with empty classrooms into community hubs. Among the ways she described repurposing the schools: Using vacant space to house daycare centers, afterschool programming, English language sessions for adults, and evening job training sessions for parents that would double as free suppers for families.

“Instead of asking which 50 schools we should close next, I’ll be focused on which 50 of our underutilized schools we should be doubling down on, turning them into true community hubs and stronger academic centers,” said Mendoza, one of the most visible candidates in the mayoral race. She touted her record as a state legislator of supporting a free breakfast program for low-income schools. “I refuse to give up on our kids.”

Like other candidates who’ve connected the dots between schools, crime, and economic development, Mendoza’s urgency to release an education plan before unveiling a fiscal or economic development agenda is another sign of the prominence that public education will play in the heated contest.

With the power to appoint school board members, the mayor’s office possesses broad control over schools and education policy. In his first term, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 schools, a decision that still reverberates today.

Among the questions that some voters regard as litmus tests: Would you close underperforming schools? Do you support an elected school board? And, educators and others who follow education policy closely, might add: Would you keep or replace the current schools chief  former principal Janice Jackson?

Mendoza is not the first candidate to release a detailed education plan. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who already has secured the endorsement of the outspoken Chicago Teachers Union — and former Chicago schools superintendent Paul Vallas each have released detailed statements about how they’d improve schools and confront one of the district’s biggest problems: steep enrollment decline.

Candidates have also been pressed to declare where they stand on the issue of an elected school board, since Chicago doesn’t have one. There has been a growing grassroots call for an elected board, with the issue becoming a point of contention at a Chalkbeat Chicago-sponsored event last week.

Like Mendoza, Preckwinkle has said she supports an elected school board. Vallas has said he supports a hybrid board.

Even candidate Bill Daley — the younger brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who pushed for Chicago to regain mayoral control in 1995 — has weighed in on the issue. Daley said late Monday that he supports a “hybrid” school board — that is, a mix of appointed and elected candidates.

At Mendoza’s appearance at the City Club of Chicago breakfast on Tuesday, she stressed her views as a parent of a Chicago Public Schools kindergartener, citing such experiences as the 3:15 p.m. school pickup time that does not align with the typical work schedule.

“How do parents do it in this city? Why is no one talking about this?” she asked, in one of several lines that received enthusiastic applause.

The club of civic and business leaders is typically an early stop for mayoral candidates, with most appearances scheduled even before candidates deliver enough petitions to land on the ballot.

As for how she’d pay for her 50 NEW plan, Mendoza hedged. Funding would come in part, she said, from state funding augmented last year.

However, acknowledging that state money would not be enough, she said she’d also ask philanthropies and businesses to support the plan, taking a page out of Emanuel’s playbook of announcing a sweeping city initiative and then raising private dollars to pay for it.

Here’s what we know so far about where the other candidates stand:

Toni Preckwinkle: The former alderman and president of the Cook County Board, citing such board failures as skipping pension payments and issuing no-bid contracts, has said she’d support a “fully elected” school board. Preckwinkle has said she would put an end to school closings and, like Mendoza, work with public and private partners to repurpose previously shuttered schools in ways that tackle other community needs like senior services. She would also invest more in nurses, social workers, counselors and support staff like teachers aides, and would halt charter school expansion until a new school board is elected.

Amara Enyia: The public policy consultant, lawyer and community organizer who has been endorsed by Chance the Rapper proposes prioritizing investments in neighborhood schools, bolstering district support for Local School Councils, and strengthening accountability for charter schools. Enyia’s also supports an elected school board, and she has said she would “expedite the process” for creating one in Chicago.

Lori Lightfoot: A staunch police reform advocate who made her name overseeing disciplinary cases as chairperson of the Chicago Police Board, Lightfoot supports creating an elected school board and has said she would expand high school apprenticeship programs and oppose opening new charter schools.

Paul Vallas: One of the earliest candidates to enter the race, the former Chicago schools chief and city budget director proposes “a hybrid elected and appointed school board,” with nine members, four elected by the community, and five appointed by the mayor, including the chairperson. Vallas promised one of his appointees would be “selected by the disability community,” and the other recommended by the teachers union. His plan for improving the school district centers on improving the district’s long-term financial planning and boosting programs such as advanced placement, dual college credit, vocational and International Baccalaureate at neighborhood schools, which have been losing enrollment.

Bill Daley: Daley proposes a seven-member school board with four members, including the board president, appointed by the mayor. Three board members would be recommended by Local School Councils. Daley, like at least two other candidates, describes this approach as a “hybrid” elected school board, although it’s unclear how much power voters would have under his model. Daley’s campaign website said he would halt opening new schools given the district’s enrollment crisis, and “cut CPS bureaucracy” with savings allocated toward school-level investments in teachers, counselors and technology.

Gery Chico: The former chief of the state school board proposes “a hybrid elected-appointed school board,” where the majority of members would be appointed by the mayor, “so that the mayor is held accountable for the educational outcomes of the district throughout the city.” Chico, a lawyer by trade, was appointed as president of the school board by then-Mayor Daley in 1995, after the state legislature handed control of the board to the mayor’s office.