Opportunity Nation released their annual report card this month, and King County has outscored the state and nation in terms of opportunity for young people. Reason to celebrate?  Not so fast. For one thing, the county-level story masks massive inequities in South Seattle and South King County; inequities that led to the development of the Road Map Project and its focus on these communities.

For example, King County’s rate of youth ages 16-24 not in school and not working (a group we refer to as “opportunity youth”) is 11%, however we estimate the rate to be nearly double that in the Road Map Project region. While King County’s rate is lower than the state and the nation, our region’s rate of 20%, which translates to an estimated 20,000 opportunity youth, puts us behind both the state and the national average.

Another reason to call off the celebration is that our rate of youth disconnection appears to be on the rise, even as the overall economy is improving. In 2011, the percentage of opportunity youth in King County was 10%, and in 2014 it climbed to 11%.

There is, however, some cause for celebration. Options for young people in our region who wish to reconnect with education are expanding thanks to the hard work of many local organizations, school districts and community colleges, the United Way of King County’s Reconnecting Youth Initiative and to a state dropout retrieval law, Open Doors (also known as HB1418), that is enabling this expansion.

The Road Map Project’s new Opportunity Youth Action Plan lays out a vision for linking disparate programs into a regional system of re-engagement pathways that helps young adults reconnect to education and progress toward a college or career credential and living-wage work. Developed by a large cross-sector work group over the past 10 months, the plan focuses on four broad goals: improving the supply of re-engagement pathways, increasing coordination, improving quality and increasing access.

Failing to invest in opportunity youth is exponentially more costly than providing services to meet their needs. Of course, prevention and intervention are critical, and important work on both is underway across districts, schools and community organizations in our region. Strategies like early warning intervention systems can help prevent young people from experiencing disconnection in the first place. This is critical, but it is not enough. Every year, over 2,000 youth in our region leave high school without a diploma. They need and deserve a second chance, and the Opportunity Youth Action Plan is all about making sure they get one.

Posted in: Opportunity Youth

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