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By Kimberly Johnson, Patch Staff | Jul 18, 2018 7:18 pm ET | Updated Jul 18, 2018 7:20 pm ET
Many young people in America face a wide range of social disadvantages — lack of a stable home or positive role models, for example — that make for a rocky transition to adulthood, according to a new study that ranked the U.S. states by the number of at-risk youth. North Carolina ranked 36th in the study.
For the study, the personal finance website WalletHub looked at 14 variables affecting "disconnected youth," that is teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24. Among others, those factors include high school graduation rates, labor force participation, physical and mental health conditions, illegal drug and heavy alcohol use, poverty and homelessness, and incarceration rates.
If not addressed, those conditions can affect young people later in life, as well as society as a whole, according to the study.
Policymakers "need to get a sense of what is happening on the ground," said Antonio Garcia, an assistant professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of its School of Social Policy & Practice.
"So many of our policymakers are absolutely clueless as to how their policies or inaction impacts the daily lives of many youth and families, especially for those residing in rural communities or in poverty," Garcia said in comments accompanying the study.
Parents and other adults have a role, too, he said.
"Mentorship is a key — having one adult children can emulate and depend upon can make a world of difference in engaging youth," Garcia said. "Instead of mandating more strict rules and regulations, parents could ask youth to brainstorm who they know in their life that they can depend on. Whether a next-door neighbor, coach, aunt or uncle or teacher, parents can then help facilitate a relationship."
The WalletHub study builds on published research showing that, nationally, one in nine Americans in that age group aren't working or in school. That amounts to nearly 4.9 million young people, or 11.7 percent of those falling in the 16-24 age group, according to Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council.
WalletHub also cited a finding by the Pentagon that 70 percent of young adults today are ineligible to join the U.S. military because they fail academic, moral or health qualifications. Other research from the National Institutes of Health that shows when kids grow up in environments with economic problems and a lack of role models, they're more at risk for poverty, early pregnancy and violence, especially in adulthood.
These are the states with the most at-risk youth, according to the WalletHub study:
- District of Columbia
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
Conversely, the states with the least at-risk youth are:
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
Some specific findings:
- Alaska, West Virginia and Louisiana have the highest share of disconnected youth, 20 percent, which is 2.9 times higher than in Iowa, the lowest at 7 percent.
- Nevada has the highest share of youth without a high school diploma, 18.9 percent, which is 2.5 times higher than in Hawaii, the lowest at 7.7 percent.
- Oklahoma and Missouri have the highest share of overweight or obese youth, 51.4 percent, which is 1.5 higher than in the District of Columbia, the lowest at 33.5 percent.
- Vermont has the highest share of youth using drugs in the past month, 40.00 percent, which is 2.7 times higher than in Utah, the lowest at 15.04 percent.
- Nevada has the highest share of homeless youth, 0.86 percent, which is 43 times higher than in Mississippi, the lowest at 0.02 percent.
Patch Editor Beth Dalbey contributed