In March 2017, Measure of America, a trusted partner of United Way, released their latest report on disconnected youth, those not enrolled in school or participating in the labor force between the ages of 16-24.

In Promising Gains, Persistent Gaps: Youth Disconnection in America, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis find there were approximately 609,000 disconnected youth in California in 2015, easily the highest rate in the nation. However, California also experienced a decrease of disconnected youth from 2010-15 by 18%, indicating improved well-being for that vulnerable population since the Great Recession. While that is certainly good news, it is prudent to consider how disconnected youth are spatially dispersed throughout California and the opportunities we have to better serve them.

In the map below, we find higher percentages of disconnected youth in Northern California, the Central Valley, and Imperial County, areas that are more rural and that tend to lack adequate social services for those in need.1 Lassen County, for example, experiences a disconnected youth rate of 53% making it not only one of the highest rates of disconnection in California, but throughout the country. Among metro areas, Bakersfield in Kern County experienced a youth disconnection rate of nearly 18%, the third highest among metropolitan areas nationally. 


Disparities among disconnected youth are especially reflected between rural and urban communities. The report concludes that youth disconnection in rural areas is slightly over 20% compared to approximately 14% in urban areas where youth tend to have more access to transportation, access to counseling, housing services and more. That national conclusion perfectly mirrors patterns in California where Los Angeles County, an urban area whose own population surpasses that of 42 other states, also experiences a youth disconnection rate of 14%. African-American young adults are also more likely to be disconnected in California (20%) compared to Latinos (13%) and whites (11%).

Despite the significant challenges being faced by disconnected youth throughout California, United Ways throughout the state are doing their part to serve the needs of disconnected youth in local communities. United Way of the Inland Valleys, based in Riverside County, recently established a Financial Independence Training (FIT) Academy to serve emancipated foster youth between the ages of 18-25. As part of this financial literacy program, these young adults are learning the value of saving assets, eradicating debt and building their social capital. With respect to the latter, program participants are being linked to corporate and workplace partners United Way of the Inland Valleys engages with for mentorship programs and skills development. Through this partnership, program graduates have landed stable employment opportunities with companies such as UPS, Western Municipal and more. One particular FIT academy class also saved an impressive $42,000 during the eight-month program validating the importance of financial literacy.

Arrowhead United Way, based in San Bernardino, also serves disconnected youth between the ages of 16-24. Through a Women United program called Interview for Success, young women are being taught important employment skills such as job interviewing, resume writing and more. To help support the program, Arrowhead United Way partnered with Macy’s who offers a $150 voucher to each program graduate so that they can acquire workplace clothing for job interviews and once they secure employment. Workplace partners such as Amazon and Costco have hired many of these young women after seeing their job skills develop during the program.   

With the ongoing challenges facing disconnected youth, ranging from difficulties in school, the inability to secure stable employment, social disconnection and and more, United Ways throughout California are working hard to improve health, education and financial stability outcomes for everyone, including disconnected youth. To learn more about volunteer opportunities or how your own workplace can partner with United Way, visit our website to find a local United Way near you.


  1. (Many Northern California counties such as Alpine, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, Sierra and Trinity were omitted from the analysis due to statistically insignificant sample sizes, making any observations about disconnected youth in those areas inconclusive).