Blog Post

The Center for Community Solutions, a non-partisan think tank based in Cleveland, Ohio, recently released a report on opportunity youth in Northeast Ohio’s Cuyahoga County. The county is home to Cleveland, as well as 50+ cities and towns and approximately 1.2 million residents. With a sharp focus on health, social and economic issues, the Center for Community Solutions examined the county’s opportunity youth population to gather demographic insights that can hopefully lead to more effective and collaborative solutions. Here are the top takeaways from the report: 

1. There are more opportunity you than you may realize

Despite the economic progress Cuyahoga County has experienced since 2009, the population of opportunity youth, those individuals aged 16–24 who are not enrolled in school or contributing to the labor market, has not improved. Between 2012 and 2016, the county had an estimated 21,000 residents classified as opportunity youth. Currently, one out of every seven residents in the 16–24 age range is disengaged from school and/or unemployed. With 14.1 percent of its youth population qualifying as opportunity youth, Cuyahoga County has a greater number than many surrounding areas, including Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Montgomery County (Dayton.) 

2. There are stark differences between urban and suburban areas

Because the definition of opportunity youth is broad, it can encompass anyone from the person who lives below the poverty level and drops out of school to the very affluent high school grad who decides to take a gap year. In general, opportunity youth in Cuyahoga County are more likely to be male, African American and live in poverty. Here are some of the key demographic differences for opportunity youth in Cleveland specifically and its suburbs:

Gender – In Cleveland, there is an even split, whereas the suburbs skew male.
Race – Sixty-five percent of opportunity youth in Cleveland are African American; the suburbs have a more even split.
Poverty level – In the city, 60 percent of opportunity youth live below 100 percent of the poverty level. In the suburbs, nearly half live 200 percent above the poverty level.

3. Systematic issues are at play

Yes, there are affluent opportunity youth – but that is a technicality of the term. This study reinforces the fact that opportunity youth are more likely to be people of color living in considerable poverty. Additionally, being disengaged from school and the workforce increases an individual’s chances of becoming involved in crime or experiencing health issues. Opportunity youth in Cuyahoga County also report struggling with teen pregnancy, caring for an aging/ailing relative, transportation issues, lack of a valid state I.D. and insufficient housing as barriers to their education or employment opportunities.

4. Most don’t know how to get help

The Center for Community Solutions used a third party to interview more than 50 area opportunity youth and found that most had clear aspirations about where they’d like to be in one and five years. Thirty-three percent hoped to own their own business, while 40 percent said they wanted to have a stable job with healthcare, trades labor and sports being among the top fields mentioned. However, the researchers identified significant hurdles for these students, aside from obvious financial issues. Some of these include:

  • Limited exposure to available occupations
  • Unrealistic understanding of career paths
  • Inability to conduct successful online searches
  • Lack of industry contacts

5. Opportunity youth impact the community financially

Because opportunity youth are not earning, and may also be accessing public assistance and social services, they have a negative impact on their local community. In Cuyahoga County, a single opportunity youth results in $44,158 per year in missed wages, tax revenue and other costs. In total, this demographic costs the county an estimated $900 million annually. What’s more, if an individual does not enroll in school or enter the workforce by the age of 25, the estimated economic loss from that person is multiplied by 20. That means that the 21,000 opportunity youth in Cuyahoga County today could potentially result in $20 billion in economic losses.

The Center for Community Solutions used one-on-one interviews, as well as information from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions and other sources to compile its report. I encourage you to read the complete findings here and see how you can get involved with opportunity youth in your community.