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Report: Fresno youths disproportionately ‘disconnected’

More Fresno youths are out of school and work than those in most other metropolitan areas around the country, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

The report finds that 3 million young people nationwide, most of them people of color, are “disconnected.” In some metropolitan areas, young blacks and Latinos are up to six times more likely to be disconnected than young whites.

Researchers analyzed employment and unemployment rates through 2014 by sex, race and educational attainment for the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Fresno data illustrate a particularly at-risk young adult population. The city is among the 10 metro areas with the lowest employment rates for people ages 16-19, 20-24 and 25-54. It also ranks second, below McAllen, Texas, in metro areas with the largest share of disconnected 20- to 24-year-olds.

Martha Ross, one of the report’s authors, said the majority of disconnected young people are ages 20-24, “which suggests that the problem really hits after high school – whether or not you graduate.”

The post-high school ‘transition is a time of promise or a time of peril.’

Martha Ross, Brookings Institution

“What it tells me is we need to work not only on reducing high school dropout rates, but handling that transition better from high school to the next thing,” she said. “It has got to include some kind of postsecondary education. That transition is a time of promise or a time of peril.”

Among disconnected youths in Fresno, some groups stick out. Women ages 20-24 have the second-highest disconnection rate of all metro areas after McAllen. Males ages 16-19 have the third-highest disconnection rate.

A few of the starkest local rates were for young adults. In the 20-24 age group:

  • Foreign-born Fresno residents have the fourth-highest disconnection rate, which is double the national average.
  • Blacks have the second-highest rate after Bakersfield – more than twice the rate for whites.
  • Asians were ranked the most at-risk of all metro areas, despite that racial group having lower disconnection rates overall.

“It’s kind of a story about the perils of generalizations,” Ross said. “The main reason so few Asians overall are not disconnected is because their rates of school enrollment are so high. But the Asian population is not monolithic, obviously.”

Most Asians in Fresno are Hmong refugees who arrived after 1975 as survivors of the “secret war” in Laos, where Hmong are considered an ethnic minority group.

Employment rises significantly with education. Among local adults ages 25-54, the employment rate goes from 55 percent for those who attained less than high school to 84 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Ross said that shows a postsecondary credential really matters. She also said high schools must do more to bring the worlds of work and education closer together. The report didn’t go into earnings, but she said there is a pay increase for those with bachelor’s degrees compared to associate’s degrees.

High school graduation rates are up statewide and locally, including among Latino, Asian and black students. A 2015 study from The Education Trust found that while graduation rates for students of all races are increasing at colleges around the country, non-white students – especially black students – still lag far behind white students.

But the Brookings Institution data show that disparities by education level are bigger than disparities by racial and ethnic group. Still, Ross said, educators must increase completion rates, especially among blacks and Latinos, in high school and postsecondary education.

“So if you look at it in a ‘glass half full’ way, what that points to is a lever for change,” she said, “because people can learn. They can get more education and learn new skills.”

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo

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