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Out of School, Out of Work; Solutions Sought

December 3, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A leading youth advocate says Kentucky has to find ways to get its young people educated and working, or the state will be left with a "lasting generation" of vulnerable adults who will "haunt communities." Terry Brooks is sounding the alarm as a new national report shows that 6.5 million youths and young adults in America are not in school and not working.

"We should be very worried about you: those are lots of dashboard signals flashing that that kind of a young person is at risk."

During the past decade in Kentucky, the number of people aged 20 to 24 who are out of school and out of work nearly doubled, jumping from 40,000 in 2000 to 75,000 in 2011.

Joc'Kema Morgan is one of those statistics. He's 23, struggling to keep a job and trying for a third time to obtain a GED. He's hoping the job training program he's now enrolled in will help him change his life's direction.

"I want to get a career so I won't have to jump from job to job. That way I can find some kind of balance in my life."

Noting past success with the old vocational-technical school model, Brooks says Kentucky now has to invent new ways to help its disconnected youth.

He says one place to put the state's limited resources is in employer-sponsored "earn to learn" programs.

"They're really be almost paid as interns and they come out at the other end prepared to enter the work force, guaranteed pretty much a job, a well-paying job, and it helps the business community."

But, to make that happen, Brooks says it will take a new mindset in Frankfort.

"We've got to break down silos. We can't separate schoolhouses from work force development. We can't separate economic development from child-welfare systems."

Without change, Brooks says, Kentucky will continue to face the biggest unemployment crisis among its teens and young adults since the Great Depression. It's a crisis Joc'Kema Morgan is living, but one he hopes does not last a lifetime.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY