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Bad News/Good News on Disconnected Young People


Friday, December 7, 2012   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The bad news is that West Virginia has a high rate of unemployed youth not in school. The good news is there are things that can be done about it.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found close to a quarter of West Virginians between 16 and 24 are neither employed nor in school.

But there are groups that say they've had some success slowing the rise in that number. Emily Schoen is director of strategic relationships and corporate communications for The Education Alliance, which mentors at risk-youth to keep them in school. She says the alliance sees improvements, including small, but steady increases in attendance.

"We found that, yes it can really help them in their academics and their behavior and of course performance. But the biggest thing is that it helps them in their individual lives and understanding why they're in school."

The Casey Foundation report found disconnected youth face serious problems in their lives. But The Education Alliance says it plans to mentor upwards of 500 young people at a time.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says the situation of disconnected youth gets at a problem with the state's economy. Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst with the center, says the decline in the number of good-paying blue-collar jobs makes it more important to have an educated workforce, because that improves the business climate. But he says the recession has tended to squeeze young people out of work and made some of them feel hopeless about education.

"When there's four unemployed people for every job opening, employers are going to take the worker who's educated, who has some skills, who has some experience. That just leaves no opportunity for young people who are just starting out in the workforce."

Mentoring can help with that, according to Schoen, who's a mentor herself. She says that it helps young people develop resilience and stick with education, even when it's tough.

"They realize you have to study; you have to take that time. Sometimes the classes you dislike the most are what you really need to spend the most time on."

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