Assemblymember, Committee Hold Emotional Hearing on Disconnected Youth

California State Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra and the Select Committee on Addressing Out of School, Unemployed Youth met July 30th at Pacoima City Hall to hold an informational hearing on Disconnected Youth and Pathways to Reconnect. Assemblymember Bocanegra was joined at the hearing by fellow Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, and Steven Bradford, and by Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Monica Ratliff.  The distinguished panel met with nationally renowned experts, community-based organizations in Los Angeles, and formerly disconnected young people.

One out of five young people ages 16 - 24 is out of school and unemployed in the City of Los Angeles, finds Paul Harrington Ph.D., Director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. His research, and that of Russell Rumberger Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Education at UC Santa Barbara, lay the foundation for the inaugural hearing of the Select Committee.  Dr. Rumberger estimates that there are over 870,000 disconnected youth in California, and that a single cohort of high school dropouts costs the state approximately $42 billion. Dr. Harrington highlighted the severe impact of the Great Recession to the labor market, and the dwindling opportunities for youth unemployment in an economy increasingly dependent on employment from health care - where only 3% of jobs are entry level - and other service sectors. Kish Rajan, Director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, reinforced that continued high youth unemployment rates are largely attributed to a lack of investment in creating entry-level positions.  

The testimony was powerful, and at times deeply personal. The second panel featured three young people, all high school dropouts of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). What caused them to disconnect varied from domestic trauma, to teen pregnancy, to lack of interest, but their paths to reengagement contained a key commonality. All three had found an organization that was willing to offer them the necessary support and guidance to reconnect. Though one of the youth panelists, Francisco Flores Osuna, had to work three jobs while studying to earn his high school diploma, he says that it was easy for him to stay motivated. The encouragement he received from YO! Valley, the Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement, kept him going. “I didn’t want to make them feel like they were wrong to believe in me,” he shared.

In response to the youth disconnection crisis, the City of LA and the LAUSD have developed a robust reengagement partnership. Their initiative, which launched in July of 2012, is led by Robert Sainz, Assistant General manager in the City of LA’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, and Debra Duardo, Executive Director of LAUSD’s Student Health and Human Services. Through strategic colocation of LAUSD counselors, city services, and community-based organizations, this partnership has returned 1,000 high school dropouts back to school. 

The final panel was the largest and most diverse, representing community organizations that serve disconnected and high-risk youth in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles at large. Increasingly disconnected youth are being rebranded as “Opportunity Youth.” Coined by the White House Council for Community Solutions, the 6.7 million opportunity youth nationwide represent immense human capital with great potential to contribute to the economic and societal vitality of the nation. As this hearing illustrated, local reengagement efforts are taking hold. Now, it is incumbent on the state to develop policies that restore educational and economic prospects to young people, allowing us to tap into the potential of opportunity youth. This will be a primary task of the Select Committee.