When it comes to at-risk youth, California receives no bragging rights

With 16% of young Americans neither working nor in school, exposing them to greater risk of poverty and violence, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2023’s States with the Most At-Risk Youth.

To determine where young Americans are not faring as well as others in their age group, especially in a year made extremely stressful by inflation, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 15 key indicators of youth risk. The data set ranges from the share of disconnected youth to the labor force participation rate among youth to the youth poverty rate.

At-Risk Youth in California (1=Most at Risk; 25=Avg.):

  • 17th – % of Disconnected Youth
  • 42nd – % of Youth Without a High School Diploma
  • 37th – % of Overweight & Obese Youth
  • 21st – % of Youth Drug Users
  • 6th – Youth Labor Force Participation Rate
  • 40th – Youth Poverty Rate
  • 1st – % of Homeless Youth

Expert Commentary

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce the number of rural youth who are disconnected from school and work?
“With 58 kids in my high school graduating class in southern Ohio, I am sensitive to rural youth issues. First, get a sense of the disconnected people and what is required within their culture. It is especially important to understand the nature of youth by asking them. A focus group would work in helping them think and strategize. Either through interviews or focus groups, it is important to gather the opinions and experiences of the students and their parents and what they did about it. Listen for axioms associated with the problem. Second, build on what you have found; study what has been tried in other communities despite public health requirements and solved similar problems.”
— Charles R. Figley, Ph.D. – Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health; Distinguished Professor, Tulane University

“Policymakers can help by continuing to support investments in developing, testing, and scaling up evidence-based programs that focus on engaging rural youth in the labor market…There are numerous effective interventions for increasing employment and earnings among rural youth, including those focused on providing assistance with job search activities, work readiness activities, and soft skills training. Policymakers can also help promote rural youth’s connection to school and work by supporting career and technical education (CTE) offerings at the secondary (high-school) level. CTE programs help students gain career-related technical skills, often including opportunities for gaining work experience through on-the-job training, internships, and/or gaining industry-specific certifications…Policymakers can also help by supporting initiatives that ensure rural youth have access to high-speed broadband internet. We know the ‘digital divide’ is a serious problem for many rural families, who may not have access to high-speed internet that is often necessary for participating in online learning, telework, and telehealth activities.”
— Emily Tanner-Smith – Professor, University of Oregon

What tips/advice do you have for parents to support young people who want to stay in school and seek employment?

“Some advice from the research is pretty straightforward. Parents should express warmth, acceptance, and support of their children. Those parenting behaviors are linked to a myriad of benefits for young people, including academic and career success. Parents should also be involved in their children’s academic and social lives. That is, parents should engage with their children’s teachers and schools and know where their children go and with whom they associate. The only circumstance when a parent’s involvement in their children’s academic life is problematic is when that involvement is the parents’ sole concern. Parental concern for a child’s holistic well-being is essential. Research also suggests that if parents want to promote their children’s positive development, they need to establish ties between their children and a relatively broad network of important non-parental adults such as teachers, coaches, and youth-serving professionals. Positive relationships with important non-parental adults may be particularly important for historically marginalized youth in rural areas as they can provide social capital to youth, such as educational and career information, resources, and opportunities.”
— Edmond P. Bowers, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Clemson University

“What we have learned from research is that one of the most effective ways to support youth is to help them form connections and a sense of belonging with supportive adults and peers. Students are more likely to be engaged at school when they feel connected to and supported by teachers and other school staff. To promote such engagement, many schools offer after-school clubs or affinity groups where students can establish those deeper connections with peers, teachers, and school staff. So, parents should consider exploring what school-based clubs or groups might be appealing to their child. Many rural schools may have limited funding for such school-based groups; however, so parents should also consider looking through directories of existing programs available in their community or reaching out to local community-based youth-serving organizations.”
— Emily Tanner-Smith – Professor, University of Oregon

What are the best ways for local authorities to encourage productivity for idle youth during the current economic crisis?

“A key aspect of this work is the empowerment of youth and the inclusion of youth voice in any change efforts. Local authorities might collaborate with appropriate partners (e.g., social services, after-school programs) to engage youth in youth participatory action research (YPAR) projects. In YPAR projects, youth are full participants in research about issues important to their lives and communities. Therefore, youth could be part of a team to address why young people in their community are disconnected from school and work. Youth learn to identify localized solutions to localized issues by ‘doing’ under the guidance of supportive adults. YPAR projects allow youth opportunities for community contribution and leadership as they grow as change agents and feel valued in their communities. Local authorities interested in YPAR can connect with faculty at their local colleges or universities about how best to initiate a YPAR project.”
— Edmond P. Bowers, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Clemson University

“It is important to remember that many youth who are ‘disconnected’ are often not aware of the services or opportunities that may be available to them in the community. Many of these youth are also facing numerous other challenges, such as homelessness; lack of access to reliable transportation or high-speed internet; and exposure to substance use, mental health challenges, neglect, or abuse in the home. A promising direction for local authorities is to seek out creative ways to offer youth-focused after-school and summer programming, or partnering with other community-based organizations or nonprofits. Simply offering the programs is not enough, however, so it is important to make youth and families aware of these opportunities through public/social media campaigns and sharing information with families at schools, churches, libraries, health centers, childcare centers, and other community settings.”
—  Emily Tanner-Smith – Professor, University of Oregon

For the full report, please visit: