Federal policies can help young people connect to education and employment

Date: Feb 17 2022

Contact: Media Relations, 202-777-3913  

The American Public Health Association and the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health today released a federal policy agenda to address the needs of the more than 4 million young people ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school or in the labor market.

The agenda, “Reconnecting Opportunity Youth: A Public Health Priority,” was developed by faculty from the Bloomberg School, experts at APHA, and a coalition of national organizations that advocate for young people.

The agenda aims to expand opportunities and offer better ways to support youth who are disconnected from education, employment, and essential services including nutrition, housing and medical supports. These youth are known as “opportunity youth” in recognition of the tremendous potential they hold when given proper access to resources and support to address obstacles in their lives. 

A website (www.opportunityyouthagenda.org) setting out the agenda was also launched today.

The policy agenda includes more than 50 recommendations that relate to early childhood education, sex education and reproductive care, restorative approaches to justice, education and career advancement, comprehensive social supports and data collection.

“Between ages 16 and 24, youth are dealing with a lot of change and uncertainty,” said C. Pluff, program manager at APHA’s Center for School, Health and Education. “They need stronger links to services and more supportive environments to graduate high school and make meaningful connections to jobs and higher education.”

“These recommendations are aimed to help young people connect and thrive,” said Tamar Mendelson, director of the Center for Adolescent Health and a Bloomberg Professor of American Health. “Implementing this agenda will make an enormous difference.”

The agenda’s goal is to bring attention to a population that has not had a collective voice, and to build more support from the public, and ultimately lawmakers, for equitable policies that prevent disconnection and provide support to this group.

A public health approach to youth disconnection is needed because of the strong links between educational and economic outcomes and overall health and well-being. Many of the factors that lead to youth disconnection—including poverty, mental health concerns or involvement with the justice system—are either directly related to or considered one of the social determinants of health. Disconnection is also an issue of health equity because it disproportionately impacts Black, Latinx and Native youth. Addressing the needs of opportunity youth will help build healthier, more equitable and thriving communities.

“Cut off from critical resources and experiences—from mentors and credentials to internships and jobs that foster feelings of agency, dignity and belonging—young people who are out of school and out of work struggle to lay the groundwork for flourishing adulthoods,” said Kristen Lewis, director of the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project. “The Opportunity Youth Agenda points the way toward a better future for these young people and for the country as a whole.” 

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The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.

Through education, research, and practice, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative works to tackle critical 21st-century challenges to health in the United States, aiming to improve health and save lives nationwide. The Initiative is tackling five issues that deeply challenge the nation’s health: addiction and overdose, adolescent health, environmental challenges, obesity and the food system, and violence. www.americanhealth.jhu.edu