Community

More than 21,000 young people in Louisville are unemployed and not enrolled in school, according to a recent study. That’s 14 percent of all Louisville youth between 16 and 24 years old.

The Measure of America study by the Brooklyn-based non-profit Social Science Research Council examined U.S. Census data to determine how many youth nationwide are economically “disconnected.”

Despite placing in the middle of the rankings, study co-director Kristen Lewis said the number of disconnected young Louisville residents is “alarming.”

“It’s a serious problem,” she said. “It means higher public assistance costs, it means higher prisons costs, it means poorer health.”

Young, black residents in Louisville are disconnected at a higher rate (18 percent) than young, white residents (13 percent), according to the study. That is consistent with national trends.

In the U.S., 13 percent of young people are considered disconnected; that includes nearly 21 percent of black residents and nearly 11 percent of white residents, according to the study. No city examined in the study had a lower disconnection rate for black residents than white residents.

The study also found that the “more segregated blacks and whites are from one another within a metro area, the lower the likelihood of youth disconnection is among whites, but the higher the likelihood is among blacks.”

Lewis added: “Disconnected youth are cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would help them develop the skills, credentials, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults.”

In 2013, researchers determined disconnected young people cost communities nearly $26 billion, Lewis said.

The number of disconnected youth in America peaked in 2010 because of the economic collapse in 2008, the study said. The current disconnected rate, about 13 percent, represents a near 280,000 person decrease since the peak, according to the study. Still, nearly 5.5 million young people in America are not enrolled in school and unemployed.

About 29 percent of these young people dropped out of high school, the report said. Four percent of disconnected young Americans earned a bachelor’s degree, and more than a third grew up in a poor household. About 15 percent have a disability.

Disconnection is tied to factors including a community’s history of disconnection, racial segregation and a lack of educational attainment, researchers said.

Lewis said disconnection is easier to prevent than to reverse.

“This means kids are ready for school, making sure that K-12 education is high quality and that there are meaningful roots to a rewarding career,” she said.

Kentucky’s situation is unique for a few reasons, Lewis said.

For instance, in Madison County (south of Lexington), has a disconnected rate of just about 8 percent. But Martin County, in eastern Kentucky, the disconnected rate is more than 47 percent. In five Kentucky counties, at least four in 10 young people were disconnected, Lewis said.

“It’s a serious problem,” she said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.