Skip to main content

The FRED® Blog

A widening disconnect? Disconnected youth in America since the Great Recession


In Sierra County, California, more than 57% of 16- to 19-year-olds were neither enrolled in school, employed, nor actively looking for a job in 2015. In Nemaha County, Kansas, that figure was less than 0.17%. Outside both the labor force and the education system, these teens are known as “disconnected youth,” and this measure has gained increasing attention in recent years: The ranks of disconnected youth rose during the Great Recession, given that the percentage of disconnected youth is closely tied to local economic and social conditions. FRED has county-level data for the percentages of 16- to 19 year-olds considered disconnected from 2009 to 2015.

The maps show the percent change in disconnected youth in 2015 and in 2010. The map for 2010 shows more red, and the map for 2015 shows more blue, which indicates the percentages increased markedly in many more counties in 2010 than 2015, likely due to the residual effects of the Great Recession. According to the Measure of America, youth disconnection tends to increase along with poverty and adult disconnection—both of which were characteristic in the high-unemployment, low-output environment of 2007-09. High ratios of disconnected youth can have devastating effects on both individuals and the overall economy: Without a work or school environment, many 16- to 19-year-olds lack mentorship, resources, and engagement. In addition, fewer workers in the labor force combined with lower tax revenues and higher strains on social assistance programs can decrease the economic potential of counties and states.

The more recent data show decreases in disconnected youth in many Western counties, especially in Idaho and Utah. However, much of Georgia and Texas saw increases in disconnected youth, some up to 23%. Overall, the picture looks better in 2015 than in 2010. The average percent change in disconnected youth in 2015 was -0.31%, compared with a rise of 0.18% in 2010. This shift from an average rise to an average decline in disconnected youth is statistically significant; however, the averages are not adjusted for county populations (values corresponding to large and small counties carried the same weight) and the slight increase does not necessarily reflect a continuing trend.

Like many economic indicators, the proportion of disconnected youth has improved slightly since the Great Recession, yet still has a long way to go.

How these maps were created: In GeoFRED, click “Build New Map.” In the Tools menu, change the region type to “County” and search for “disconnected youth” in the data menu. Change the units to “Change, Percent.” In “Edit Legend,” change the number of color classes to six and adjust accordingly. To create the second map, follow these same steps, but change the date to 2010.

Suggested by Maria Hyrc.



Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Twitter logo Google Plus logo Facebook logo YouTube logo LinkedIn logo
Back to Top