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1 in 5 Young People in Connecticut Are Disconnected or At-Risk

A report found that 63,000 residents aged 14 to 26 have either failed to graduate high school or have graduated but are not currently employed or enrolled in further education. An additional 56,000 are at risk of not graduating high school.

An estimated 19 percent of Connecticut residents between ages 14 and 26 are disconnected from education and employment or "at risk" of failing to graduate high school, a new report from Dalio Education says.

The report's authors argue that total constitutes a crisis and that reducing disconnection would benefit not only the young people themselves but also the state as a whole.

According to the report, released Wednesday, about 63,000 young people are "disconnected," meaning they either failed to graduate high school or graduated high school but are not currently employed or enrolled in further schooling. Of that total, 12,000 neither graduated high school nor are currently employed or in school.

Additionally, another 56,000 students "exhibit warning signs" of not graduating high school and are therefore classified as "at risk."

The report points to "meaningful concentrations of at-risk and disconnected young people in every town in Connecticut," but warns that the issue is most acute in the state's largest cities and its rural areas.

"The fact that one in five youth are disconnected from education and employment is an unspoken crisis," said Andrew Ferguson, co-CEO of Dalio Education, an arm of Dalio Philanthropies. "We hope that by releasing this report, we can raise broad public awareness and understanding about the facts, about what's happening to young people."

Disconnected young people, the report says, are disproportionately likely to have been homeless, to have interacted with the child welfare system, to have been enrolled in special education and to attend high-poverty schools. Black, Latino and Native American young people were nearly twice as likely as whites to be at-risk or disconnected.

According to the report, authored by a team from the Boston Consulting Group hired by Dalio Education, these problems existed before COVID but worsened during the pandemic, amid rising mental health challenges, increased chronic absenteeism and other disruptions.

"A statewide problem that has existed for many years has now exploded into a full-blown crisis because this population has, for too long, been unrecognized and not supported in a way that truly responds to its needs," the report's authors wrote.

As part of the report, the authors suggested a range of recommendations aimed at re-engaging disconnected young people, including improved data tracking and reporting around the issue, the establishment of a statewide coalition to support disconnected youth and increased funding for services aimed at this population.

The authors urged Connecticut residents to care about disconnected young people for both moral and economic reasons. According to their estimates, if Connecticut could help its disconnected youth "get back on track," its gross domestic product would grow as much as $5.5 billion, while the state would save anywhere from $650 million to $750 million annually through increased tax revenues and savings on government services.

The Dailo Education report was compiled through more than 100 interviews with educators, municipal and non-profit leaders and others, as well as state and federal data. Still, the authors acknowledge certain limitations, such as an absence of data on self-employed or gig-economy workers, who are not represented in the employment data used for the report's estimates.

Dalio Education was founded by Barbara Dalio, the wealthy philanthropist and wife of hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, who has frequently taken interest in children's issues in the past.

In 2019, Dalio Philanthropies announced it would contribute $100 million as part of a partnership with the state of Connecticut to target disengaged students in vulnerable communities. The arrangement faced questions about transparency and oversight, however, and was eventually canceled in March 2020.

In a recent interview, Barbara Dalio said those issues hadn't deterred her from advocacy around engagement in Connecticut.

"If the partnership didn't work, we're still here in full swing," she said. "We have the same energy and commitment — more than ever."

Dalio said she was drawn to the problem of disconnected youth due to her experience as a mother and also due to time she spent observing an alternative high school, where students often faced serious struggles in and out of the classroom.

"Sometimes depending on what district you live in, if you're busy with your life, maybe you're not aware that there are young people struggling like that," Dalio said. "So I just want people to know who these youth are and to portray them in a very humane way so they can really see what it's like to to live in those circumstances."

Dalio said she hoped the report would spark interest in the subject more widely. She would not say whether her organization planned to help fund the enhanced statewide services suggested in the report, saying she wanted to take the process "one step at a time."

Ferguson said helping at-risk and disconnected young people is "bigger than any one foundation" and will require collaboration between numerous organizations and agencies, both public and private.

In his view, investment in this problem today will benefit both young people and the state as a whole.

"If we do nothing about this crisis, it will continue to cost [about] $730 million a year," he said. "So let's do something as a state."


(c)2023 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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