Coined in 2012 by John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, the term “opportunity youth” refers to the millions of young people in America between the ages of 16 and 24 who, for a variety of reasons, are out of school and unemployed.
Memphis is home to the highest percentage of opportunity youth among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas (an estimated 30,000 young people), which is a factor that contributes to Memphis also having one of the highest poverty rates in the country. Lack of education and work experience are the biggest obstacles for opportunity youth to overcome. By addressing these two barriers simultaneously, we can turn off the spigot producing opportunity youth and get young people reconnected and reengaged in school, work, and civic life.
The future success of Memphis and Shelby County is connected to how we treat our young people – our potential leaders and the future economic base of our community – today. Community investment in education, training, and support programs that prepare young people for academic achievement and meaningful careers will pay off in:
- An increased number of young people who finish high school prepared for college and/or career
- A stronger workforce built on expanded career and technical training opportunities
- Greater economic stability, as expanded access to educational and enrichment opportunities from summer and afterschool programs improves the odds that young people and families will be able to build better futures for themselves
- The introduction and maintenance of a proactive approach to addressing economic and workforce development needs, reducing crime, and reversing negative trends
In other words, a stronger, more stable, and more vibrant future for our city.
Read the next post in this series: The Movement in Memphis Continues