Disconnected Youth


Percent of North Carolina 16-19-year-olds neither in school or working (indicator shown as distance from 100%)

Last updated: 2018

= Top southern state

(not available for all indicators)



Percent of North Carolina 16-19-year-olds not in school or working (full or part time). This figure includes incarcerated youth who are not enrolled in school.


Just over one in every fourteen (7.0%) North Carolina 16-19-year-olds was not in school or working in 2018, placing our state 31st among all states for disconnected youth. In Virginia, the southern state with the lowest levels of youth disconnection, this rate was 4.8%. Minnesota had the lowest rate of disconnected youth of any state nationwide (3.0%).

2030 Goal

MyFutureNC is working with NC Commerce and the NC Works Commission to establish a 2030 goal for this indicator.


Ages 16-19 represent a critical period in the transition to adulthood—higher rates of disconnection suggest these young adults are cut off from critical social supports and experiences that can help them build a path to the future.

Measure for America, a project from the Social Science Research Council, notes that disconnected youth are “cut off from the people, institutions, and experiences that would otherwise help them develop the knowledge, skills, maturity, and sense of purpose required to live rewarding lives as adults. And the negative effects of youth disconnection ricochet across the economy, the social sector, the criminal justice system, and the political landscape, affecting us all.”

An analysis of disconnected youth in the Research Triangle by MDC, Inc. found that disconnected youth may:

  • struggle in school or perform below grade level;
  • be less prepared for the labor market;
  • live in high-poverty families, often headed by a single parent;
  • be in or exiting foster care;
  • be at-risk of sanction by the criminal justice system.

Unemployment and a lack of educational attainment is also linked to depression, anxiety, and isolation. The limited education, lack of work experience, minimal professional networks, and social exclusion of disconnected youth have consequences into adulthood and may affect earnings and self-sufficiency, physical and mental health, and relationship quality and family formation.


Line chart showing % of 16-19-year-olds not working and not in school, NC vs. US, 2006-2018North Carolina’s rates of youth disconnection are just above the national average—7.0% in 2018 versus 6.9% nationally. State disconnected youth rates have generally been above the national average in every year since 2006 but have drawn closer to the national average in recent years. (2014 may represent a data sampling issue and not a true decline). Statewide, the share of disconnected youth follows national patterns: peaking in 2009 following the Great Recession and trending downward since then.

By geography

Nearly one in ten teenagers in rural North Carolina counties were disconnected, with higher rates of youth disconnection among teens in metropolitan rural counties (9.4%) than non-metropolitan counties (8.9%). Urban North Carolina counties had the lowest rates of disconnected youth (5.3%) followed by suburban counties (6.8%).

Bar chart showing % of NC 16-19-year-olds not working and not in school, 2018, by geographic area, sex, demographic group, and overall NC state average.

By sex

North Carolina men ages 16-19 have higher rates of disconnection than women—7.8% versus 6.1%.

By race/ethnicity

American Indian youth had the highest rates of disconnection—14.8%—meaning they were least likely to be in school or working. Hispanic (10.3%), Asian (7.2%), and multiracial (7.1%) youth all had disconnection rates above the state average. White (6.0%) and black (6.8%) teens age 16-19 were the only groups to fall below the state average.

Where does the data for disconnected youth come from?

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). This annual survey of demographic, economic, and social characteristics has been collected for all households and group quarters populations since 2006. The Public Use Microdata Series (PUMS) contains anonymized person-level observations that enable custom tabulations of the data for the state and some counties. Data for all counties is available in the 5-Year ACS in Table B14005: Sex by School Enrollment by Educational Attainment by Employment Status for the Population 16 to 19 Years.

How was the data calculated?

Carolina Demography calculated the disconnected youth rate using ACS PUMS data retrieved from IPUMS-USA. Individuals were identified as being disconnected if they were not enrolled in school and were either unemployed or not in the labor force. The disconnected youth rate was calculated by dividing the estimated number of disconnected youth ages 16-19 by the total number of youth ages 16-19.

Who is included?

All residents of North Carolina ages 16-19.

Who isn’t included?

Certain types of group quarters facilities are not sampled due to difficulties associated with data collection, such as domestic violence shelters, soup kitchens, and living quarters for victims of natural disasters. Full details on the ACS sample and methodology are available here.

The data used in the development of this indicator is derived from a survey and is subject to sampling and non-sampling error. 


Who is working on this in NC?

Help improve this section

If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.

Further research and literature

CLASP. (2012). Out-of-School Males of Color: Summary of Roundtable Discussion. Washington, DC: CLASP.

Lewis, Kirsten, & Gluskin, R. (2018). To Futures: The Economic Case for Keeping Youth on Track. New York: Measure of America, Social Science Research Council.

Lewis, Kristen, & Burd-Sharps, S. (2015). Zeroing In on Place and Race: Youth Disconnection in America’s Cities. New York: Measure of America, Social Science Research Council.

Martha Ross and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka. (2016). Employment and disconnection among teens and young adults: The role of place, race, and education. Washington, DC: Brookings.

Mason, D. (2019, March 14). Engaging “Disconnected” Youths to Prevent Lives of Isolation, Poverty, and Ill Health. news@JAMA. Retrieved December 12, 2019, from https://newsatjama.jama.com/2019/03/14/jama-forum-engaging-disconnected-youths-to-prevent-lives-of-isolation-poverty-and-ill-health/

MDC, Inc. (2018, August). Disconnected Youth in the Research Triangle Region: An Ominous Problem Hidden in Plain Sight. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from https://www.mdcinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/disconnected-youth.pdf

MDRC. (2013). Building Better Programs for Disconnected Youth. New York: MDRC.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Supporting the Educational and Career Success of Out-of-School Youth under WIOA. Washington, DC: Office of Career, Technical, and adult Education, U.S. Department of Education.

FAQ

Are individuals who are incarcerated classified as disconnected youth?

Individuals who are incarcerated and are not reported as being enrolled in school or working will be identified as disconnected youth.


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