- During the Great Recession, communities of color were forgotten in the country’s pursuit of economic recovery.
- As the country prepares its comeback from the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis, these communities must not be forgotten again.
- Kristen Lewis is the director and co-founder of Measure of America.
- Rebecca Gluskin is the Chief Statistician for Measure of America.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
During the Great Recession, a particular image of struggling young people captured national attention: middle-class college graduates holed up in their parents’ basements, their nascent careers derailed by the economic collapse. Upper-middle class youth facing unexpected economic constraints, heading to state schools rather than the Ivy or private liberal arts college they could no longer afford.
Resources and attention poured in to get this group of newly disconnected youth – young people aged 16-24 out of work and out of school – back on their feet.
While their pain was real, these young people were able to bounce back. At the peak of the Great Recession in 2010, 11.7% of white youth were disconnected, and by 2018 the rate reached 9.2%, the lowest in a decade.
In contrast, the disconnection rate for Black youth was 17.4% in 2018, down from 22.5% of these young people out of school or out of a job in 2010. The 2018 Black youth disconnection rate was still nearly double the rate of white young people and well above that of whites during the worst of the recession.
Black, Latino, and Native American youth, overshadowed by the plight of their wealthier, whiter peers, simply didn’t receive the same resources and support, and the recovery left them behind.
Now, we risk making the same mistake again. We’re battling two public health crises – coronavirus and systemic racism – and entering into what’s expected to be a particularly deep recession. As the US looks to recover, we have to invest in communities with the fewest resources that face the toughest barriers to reconnection.
The pandemic is causing a spiking disconnection rate
As a result of the pandemic, the youth disconnection rate in 2020 will spike even higher than it did during the Great Recession to as many as one in five or one in four young people. That’s potentially one-quarter of young people out of work and out of school.
This crisis impacts teens and young adults from all backgrounds, but the recovery effort cannot forget about those who will face the most difficulty coming back.
Young people from at-risk communities who were disconnected or on the brink of disconnection before the pandemic are confronting an economy that has no room for them and an online education system that vastly favors the wealthy. Without support and resources, they will face a heightened risk of poverty, poor health, and unstable employment as adults.
Racial disparities aren’t the only differences between connected and disconnected youth: nearly one-third of disconnected youth live in a poor household, and they are more than three times as likely to have a disability, nine times as likely to have dropped out of high school, and more than 20 times as likely to be living in institutionalized group quarters.
Disconnected young people tend to hail from low-income communities of color – the same communities that are getting sick and dying at higher rates from COVID-19. These young people will have to bear a greater burden of the stress, trauma, and grief as they disproportionately lose parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.
Despite the massive nationwide effort to move school online, many of these same students don’t have reliable access to a computer or the internet, and others simply don’t have a support system to help them to show up virtually. As a result, schools are reporting high rates of absenteeism – especially those serving low-income students. Even when schools reopen, many students will never return.
For those who drop out of school, work isn’t an option either: unemployment is the worst it has been since the Great Depression and some economists predict it may take years to recover. Worse still, while the national unemployment rate improved slightly from 14.2% in April to 13.3% in May, the unemployment rate increased among Black Americans, reaching 16.8% in May.
Congress’ rapid passage of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March made it clear that the country has the resources to help in times of crisis.
This federal support followed years of cuts to food stamps, public health clinics, housing assistance, schools, and programs for vulnerable young people – belts tightened during the recession and not loosened during the years of economic turnaround. Public discourse must begin to recognize inequality, poverty, and racism – all factors inextricably linked to youth disconnection – for the crises they are.
Now is the time for Congress to increase federal funding for summer youth employment programs like NYC SYPE and to implement meaningful student loan forgiveness policies. K-12 schools need more funding for school social workers and guidance counselors who can help break down the school to prison pipeline. Most importantly, these investments and new policies should be data driven — and disconnected youth maps are the place to start to determine where to direct funds first to support those who need it most.
As the country looks to recover from the pandemic and confronts centuries of racial discrimination, policymakers and the public have a collective responsibility to correct a long history of unequal investment in Black communities and low-income communities of color. We should learn from our past, not repeat it.
Kristen Lewis is the director and co-founder of Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council. Measure of America provides easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of well-being and opportunity in America and stimulating fact-based dialogue about issues we all care about—health, education, and living standards.
Rebecca Tave Gluskin, MSc, PhD, Chief Statistician, leads the quantitative research and analysis for Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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Read the original article on Opinion Contributor. Copyright 2020.