Virginia’s Disconnected Youth

Source: StatChat Blog.

Virginia’s overall unemployment rate has been declining steadily for years, reaching 3.2% in June 2018. But youth unemployment remains disconcertingly high. Indeed roughly 10% of the state’s 16- to 24-year-olds are “disconnected” from the labor force, neither working nor pursuing an education, reports Shonel Sen, a researcher with the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.

Living up to stereotype, almost 60% of disconnected youth still live with parents. A majority of the economic dropouts are white, although a significant minority are black, Sen writes in the StatChat blog. While one out of five is a high-school dropout, half have high school degrees or GEDs, one out of five has some college, and 7% have B.A. degrees or higher.

The phenomenon of disconnected youth is troubling, writes Sen. The failure to enter the workforce may impair the ability of young people to find and keep steady jobs later in life.

These teens and young adults are neither attending high school nor working, and this level of disconnectedness represents an entirely different set of circumstances for younger people than those faced by older adults who may currently be out-of-work. For youth who are disconnected from both school-networks and workplaces at this crucial point of emerging adulthood, the consequences of this disconnection can have a lasting impact on lifetime work habit development and social, physical, and financial well-being.

Engaging these youth may require different public policy responses that programs designed to bring adults with a history of work back into the labor force, Sen suggests.

Investing in pathways to affordable and accessible post-secondary education will yield a high return. Targeted policies that attempt to reduce high school dropout rates, provide apprenticeships and training opportunities, and open up career pathways for this vulnerable youth population will greatly benefit not just these individuals, but also society at large.

Perhaps. Government programs might be the answer… But I’m not confident that government can address what may be a cultural phenomenon or symptom of a mental-health crisis.

The data, drawn from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey five-year estimates, provides an incomplete snapshot. The demographic and educational variables it highlights may not be the key drivers behind the stay-at-home phenomenon.

How many of these disconnected youth are paralyzed by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety? How many engage in substance abuse? How many don’t appear to be working but actually are working — in the black market economy? How many are anti-social recluses who dither away their time playing computer games?

Here’s one clue: Asians constitute 6% of Virginia’s population but only 3% of disengaged students. Why is that? One possible explanation is that Asians tend to reach higher levels of education, and education level is a critical variable in youth disengagement. Another explanation is that in tight-knit Asian sub-cultures, youth suffer less from depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Alternatively, perhaps Asian families have lower tolerance for slacker behavior and don’t mind confronting non-performing children and getting them off their duffs.

Opening up “career pathways” might help some disengaged youth. But I doubt that a lack of apprenticeships and training is the problem for most. Frankly, we don’t fully understand what’s going on.

Sen has highlighted a fascinating problem, though. As Virginia’s economy suffers from chronic labor shortages, it is in society’s interest — and in the interest of the young people themselves — to find ways to help the disengaged youth become productive citizens.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


10 responses to “Virginia’s Disconnected Youth”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Hold on here, Jim. You are way out of line. These kids are all victims of America’s white patriarchy – the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, white male supremacists, you name it, among us.” How can victims of all this abuse by all these other people get jobs when they “can’t shake your hand, and look you in the eye,” says the Wall Street Journal.

    No, these are the kinds of traumatized kids who require great care, nurturing, safe spaces, and elaborate protections, by our K-12 schools, and ten too our colleges, and universities in America.

    These kids need places like UVA’s Department of English who will baby sit them, refine and deepen their insecurities and fears, heighten their sense of entitlement and victimization by other people unlike them, particularly white people, or if they be white kids and seek education at UVA they alternatively must own up to and repent for their privileges, accomplishments, and strengths that they’ve acquired by abusing and discriminating against other classmates, and do in public, in front of their other classmates.

    Hence, UVA’s Department of English defines its mission to lure in and seduce these needy kids, or any few strong ones too, who come to their door seeking education, but who instead are told false stories teaching, ideologies, and hate, that revert them back into helpless, spoiled and angry children.

    Thus, when writing ” About Us”, here’s how the Department describes itself:

    “ABOUT US –

    The English Department teaches texts that reflect and permit study of a wide range of voices. In order to do what we do well, we must be a place in which all students—the student who feels endangered because of threats based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, immigration status, body type; the student who has felt unwelcome because of unpopular political views; the student who is feeling isolated; the student who believes in the enabling properties of literature and language, the student who fears power that has been associated with literature and language, the student who is unsure what literature and language mean in a time like ours—feel welcome. All such students, indeed all UVa students, are welcome in our department and in our classrooms.”

    It’s getting worse too by the day in our K-12 schools throughout our nation.

    1. That’s a real English Department quote? My gosh, it’s a self-parody. Somehow, I’m guessing that the commitment to welcome “the student who has felt unwelcome because of unpopular political views” may not be to students espousing all political views.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Yes, Jim, that is the lead in quote written by UVA English Department to describe itself and its mission.

        UVA’s English Department takes its mission very seriously. To study English at UVA, here is what undergraduates must wade through in course offerings this year (Fall 2018; Spring 2018). This is a sampling. Read it all to get the message.


        Jim Crow America -Instructors: K. Ian Grandison and Marlon Ross

        Why has Jim Crow persisted? This course examines how the Jim Crow regime was established in New England during the early republic, how it was nationalized after the Civil War, and how it has been perpetuated into the present, despite the passage of 1960s Civil Rights legislation. What have been the changing modes of maintaining Jim Crow particularly in law (including law enforcement), education, planning, public health, and mass media (newspapers, film, radio, and social media); and what strategies have African Americans used to fight Jim Crow segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and economic exclusion. Focus will be placed on Charlottesville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. as case studies. The course culminates in a required field trip to Richmond.

        Black Queer Culture – Instructor: Timothy Griffiths

        In the now-essential critical anthology Black Queer Studies (2005), scholars … announced three primary reasons for the formalization of black queer cultural studies: the need for a usable past in African American culture for black queer people, the traditionally patriarchal and heterosexist tendencies of African American cultural studies, and a perceived inhospitality in women’s and gender studies toward research on race as it intersected with gender and sexuality. When Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017, it was a sign to some that at least some minor progress had been made in the cultural representation of queer people of color. “Intersectionality,” though not always adequately defined, is now an acknowledged conceptual keyword of liberal and leftist culture. And in women’s and gender studies and African American studies, it is now becoming a given that critiques of race, gender, and sexuality are not hermetically sealed discourses, that the elevations and devaluations of certain identitarian markers are constellated in both deliberate and latent fashions. What are the primary critical problems faced by black queer cultural studies now and in the future? How can we continue to expand the usable past of black queer culture, opening up African American cultural production across its history to a black queer critical audience? Where have increases in black queer cultural representation succeeded and what are the discontents of cultural representation as a primary ethic of black queer liberation? How can or should we understand the relationship between the discursive histories of black feminism and black queer culture, and what conflicts have arisen in their mutual (but not always well-mapped) related growth? And finally, how do the anthologizing practices and theorizations of black queer culture elevate or exclude various iterations of black queer cultural expression, identity, or history? To answer these questions, we will engage a very broadly defined canon of black queer literature …

        American Natures – Instructor: Mary Kuhn

        This course explores an unconventional literary history of environmental thinking in America from the late eighteenth century to the present. We’ll move beyond the traditional environmental canon into (one) () one that gives us diverse perspectives on humanity’s connections to land and nature. We’ll focus on how writers have cultivated different forms and scales of environmental thought, and how they have positioned environmental thinking in relation to issues of social and environmental justice, including land dispossession, slavery, imperialism, and labor exploitation tied to resource extraction …

        Feminist Theory – Instructor: Susan Fraiman

        An introduction to US feminist criticism and theory. This course pairs novels and other works by women with critical and theoretical essays in order to contrast diverse feminist approaches. The syllabus is also informed by queer and critical race theory as well as postcolonial and cultural studies. I expect to explore such themes as mobility and migration, mother-daughter relations, the “male gaze,” incarceration/escape, female masculinity, and conflicts/commonalities among women. We will also broach such theoretical issues as how to periodize the development of feminist theory, the contributions of queer theory, the logic of canon formation, and the way gender intersects with other axes of identity (race, sexuality, disability, class, etc.) …

        Race in American Places – Instructor: Kenrick Grandison

        This interdisciplinary seminar uses the method of Critical Landscape Analysis to explore how everyday places and spaces, “landscapes,” are involved in the negotiation of power in American society. Landscapes, as we engage the idea, may encompass seemingly private spaces (within the walls of a suburban bungalow or of a government subsidized apartment) to seemingly public spaces (the vest pocket park in lower Manhattan where the Occupy Movement was launched in September 2011; the Downtown Mall, with its many privately operated outdoor cafés, that occupy the path along which East Main Street once flowed freely in Charlottesville; or even the space of invisible AM and FM radio waves that the FCC supposedly regulates in the public’s interest). We launch our exploration by considering landscapes as arenas of the Culture Wars. With this context, we unearth ways in which places are planned, designed, constructed, and mythologized in the struggle to assert and enforce social (especially racial) distinctions, difference, and hierarchy. You will be moved to understand how publicly financed freeways were planned not only to facilitate some citizens’ modern progress, but also to block others from accessing rights, protections, and opportunities to which casually we believe all “Americans” are entitled. We study landscapes not only as represented in written and non-written forms, but also through direct sensory, emotional, and intellectual experience during two mandatory field trips to places in our region. In addition to informal group exercises and individual mid-term exam, critical field trip reflection paper, and final exam, you are required to complete in small groups a final research project on a topic you choose that relates to the seminar. Past topics have ranged from the racial politics of farmers’ markets in gentrifying inner cities to the gender–and the transgender exclusion—politics of universal standards for public restroom pictograms. Students showcase such results in an informal symposium that culminates the semester. Not only will you expand the complexity and scope of your critical thinking abilities, but also you will never again experience as ordinary the spaces and places you encounter from day to day.


        Conjuring Race and Gender in National Memory – Instructors: Sarah Ingle

        This course examines the various forms of literal and figurative “conjuring” that have been used throughout American history to create and control the boundaries of race and gender. What is the source of this magic that has the power to turn a person into a piece of property or a woman into a second-class citizen? How does this metamorphosis take place? Throughout the semester, we will use literature, film, music, and other artistic media to explore how American writers and other artists have used conjuring as a metaphor to help them represent the strange ways in which race and gender transform and control people’s lives, as well as the powers that enable individuals to resist those transformations …

        Post-Reconstruction – Instructor: Timothy Griffiths

        In this course we will examine American literature of the Post-Reconstruction period, an under regarded and amorphous time in American literary development occurring between roughly 1877–1914. With a special emphasis on African American and women’s literature, we will consider how writers of this period anticipated American modernism; radically altered thought on the intersectional nature of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the republic; and gave birth to literary movements that are still vital today …

        Theories of Reading – Instructor: Rita Felski

        How and why do we read? …This course is divided into two parts. The first part, on critical reading, surveys influential forms of literary theory, including structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, feminism, postcolonialism, and queer theory. In the second half, we will explore everyday experiences of reading that are either ignored or treated with suspicion in literary theory: identification and recognition; empathy; enchantment and self-loss; horror and shock; fandom and the pleasure of collective reading …

        Contemporary Disability Theory – Instructor: Christopher Krentz

        In the last several decades, thinking about people with physical, cognitive, and sensory differences has moved from an exclusively pathological medical-based understanding to a more rights-based framework. In this course we will consider how conceptions of disability have changed and how these theories relate to the depiction of disabled people in literature … Students in the class will also be asked to attend at least one disability-related event on Grounds …

        Critical Race theory – Instructor: Marlon Ross

        What does race mean in the late 20th and early 21st century? Given the various ways in which race as a biological “fact” has been discredited, why and how does race continue to have vital significance in politics, economics, education, culture, arts, mass media, and everyday social realities? How has the notion of race shaped, and been shaped by, changing relations to other experiences of identity stemming from sexuality, class, disability, multiculturalism, nationality, and globalism? This course surveys major trends in black literary and cultural theory from the 1960s to the present, focusing on a series of critical flashpoints that have occurred over the last several decades. These flashpoints include: 1) the crisis over black authenticity during the Black Power/ Black Arts movement; 2) the schisms related to womanism (or women of color feminism), focused on Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple and the Steven Spielberg film adaptation; 3) the debate over the social construction of race (poststructuralist theory); 4) the debate over queer racial identities, focused on two films, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman and Barry Jenkins’ 2016 film Moonlight; 5) racial violence and the law, focused on the Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement; and 6) the aesthetic movement called Afrofuturism. Other reading will include a variety of theoretical essays and chapters drawn from different disciplines, including legal theory, film and media studies, sociology, history, political theory, and hip hop studies. While concentrating on theories of race deriving from African American studies, we’ll also touch on key texts from Native American, Asian-American, and Chicanx studies. The goal of the course is to give you a solid grounding in the vocabulary, key figures, concepts, debates, and discursive styles comprising the broad sweep of theoretical race studies from the late- twentieth century to the present, and to nurture your own theorizing about race and its deep cultural impact.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Does the second sentence in the “About Us” section above really contain 92 words?

      1. That was my thought as well. In one of my English classes we used “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. One of the key rules was to “Omit needless words.” Times have changed.

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Rule 13!

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s pretty much been a conundrum for quite some time in terms of what happens to kids who are not on their way to college.

    And, I think it’s hard for those folks who actually went from high school directly to college to really understand the issue.

    Yes, you have kids who have “problems” but that should not keep us from efforts to get the larger group onto a 21st century job track.

    Used to be some of those kids would go into the military. Some would go get factory jobs. Others would get jobs in fast food/retailing, etc.

    So we’re talking about BOTH urban and rural youth. These days low-income kids in RoVa are as much at loose ends as urban kids – regardless of color.

    Yes, Some of them have too many problems to just transition but a much larger number just need a path and some guidance – like they always have in decades past and the military functioned as a giant “jobs” program where they got training and guidance and job skills. Many a kid not bound for college – found a path through the military.

    There are other paths – like fire and rescue and HVAC, auto repair, medical techs, etc.

    We have to do this. It’s not optional. It’s irresponsible to say these kids deserve to be left to their own devices – as if we don’t get them back as wards of taxpayers or the criminal justice system.

    Every kid that fails – falls back in our taxpaying laps… It might feel good to let them twist in the wind but in the longer run , it’s dumber than a bag of rocks.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    I can’t count the number of businesses around Northern Virginia with help wanted signs on their doors. Mookie’s BBQ is one example in Great Falls. Now hiring for all positions. Food is great so there’s a perk.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Kick their butts out of the basement and send them into the world, parents. Once again, don’t whine or worry about the kids and ignore The Great Enablers. We don’t need no stinking “public policy response.” DJ is right, career pathways abound. Some have limited their opportunities due to drugs or criminal records, but even those can be overcome. I’m not the one dumber than a box of rocks, Larry.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Always been this way Steve. Kids who don’t go from high school directly to college are often at loose ends as to the path forward for them. Some of them do eventually find their way sometimes through the military.

      In terms of dumber than rocks – my view is that “kicking these kids out of the basement” sounds good but it’s short on what happens next and in the end – what happens next – comes back on us… and that’s what dumber than rocks if we know this and we still insist it’s not something we need to deal with.

      Just as with school itself – we cannot save them all.. a certain number are bad to the bone and headed for nothing good but it’s the overall numbers that concern me – we CAN and should divert as many as we can from unemployment and prison… it’s not a binary thing.. it’s a how many thing…

Leave a Reply