Improvements in youth outcomes
Recent data released shows an improvement in youth outcomes.
Our youth are certainly faced with many challenges today, including increased exposure to dangerous drugs, violence in the home, school and neighborhoods, and a lack of opportunity for extra-curricular activities and after-school jobs. Add into that the struggles many families face with un-employment, under-employment, lack of health care and other critical resources; it is no wonder we worry about their future as productive members of society. Fortunately, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel in regards to positive outcomes for youth in the United States. Recent reports show improvements in graduation rates, as well as decreases in the numbers of incarcerated youth, and the number of teen pregnancies.
Improved graduation rates
The annual Building a Grad Nation report, the most comprehensive graduation research report of late, finds that for the first time the U.S. is on track to meet the national Grad Nation goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by the class of 2020.
Why it matters
This is good news because of the high cost to society in regards to high school drop-outs. Not only do high school graduates earn less per-year than graduates (more than $9,000 less), but they are more likely to be unemployed, and on some sort of government assistance.
Decrease in incarcerated youth
A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's new KIDS COUNT more good news. They report a drop of more than 40 percent over a 15-year period in the lock-up rate for young people that are in trouble with the law, with no decrease in public safety.
Why it matters
Considering a recent extensive report of AECF's 2011 No Place for Kids, incarcerating youth seems to do more harm than good, not only to youth, but to society in general. Their findings show that of the states which lowered juvenile confinement rates, most saw a greater decline in juvenile violent crime arrests. Nationwide, states continue to spend billions of dollars to confine and house young offenders in incarceration facilities. This is despite evidence showing that alternative in-home or community-based programs can deliver equal or better results for a fraction of the cost. In addition it exposes youth to violence and abuse such as persistent maltreatment, sexual abuse and physical attacks.
Decrease in teen pregnancies
The Center for Disease Control reported record low numbers for teen pregnancy in 2011 with rates dropping by 11 percent for women ages 15- to 17-years, and seven percent for women aged 18- to 19-years.
Why it matters
This is important for positive youth outcomes because teen pregnancy and childbearing bring substantial social and economic costs through immediate and long-term impacts on teen parents and their children. As recently as 2008, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for nearly $11 billion per-year costs to U.S. tax payers. Teen pregnancy also leads to an increased high school drop-out rate for girls. In addition, children of teen moms are more likely to have lower academic achievement, drop-out of school, have more health problems, be incarcerated during their teen years, become teen parents themselves, and face unemployment as adults.
In conclusion, as a society we can take heart that things are getting better for youth. However, we need to rejoice with caution and be ever mindful of policies and programs that work to improve conditions for all youth. Michigan State University Extension has a long standing history of providing programs and resources to promote positive youth development. Please visit www.msue.anr.msu.edu to find ways you can help build a positive future for youth.