The kids are not alright. Studies suggest 11 percent of Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are idle—not in school and not working—and that 70 percent of young adults in the U.S. do not meet the military’s academic, moral, or health requirements. These are what social scientists call “At-Risk Youth” and they are everywhere, but they aren’t everywhere in equal numbers. In fact, these struggling kids tend to be from very specific places and to congregate in others.
WalletHub recently threw a spotlight on the problem of idle youth, by crunching the numbers on youth mental health, education, drug use, unemployment, and other risk factors. The result is a map of at-risk youth, ranked by state. Washington D.C., ranked first, should be concerned. “This is a critical issue that has not been adequately addressed,” Craig Lecroy of Arizona State University told WalletHub. “Our communities need to consider new resources that can help youth better integrate in school and work settings.”
To calculate these scores, WalletHub scoured public data. They figured out how many youth in each state were not attending school or working, how many suffered physical or mental health problems, how many used drugs or alcohol, or had been incarcerated, and how many lived in poverty. After weighing each item against the average, they assigned a raw score to every state.
The map suggests that coastal states, such as Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, have the fewest at-risk youth, and this is not terribly surprising. Youth living in rural states, such as Louisiana and Mississippi (ranked second and third, respectively), have less going for them across the board. “The quality of education and the availability of health and social services…is oftentimes lesser than in other regions,” Vincent Guilamo-Ramos of New York University and Montefiore Medical Center told WalletHub. “Local economies in rural areas experience high youth unemployment. Youth residing in rural areas remain disproportionately impacted by teen pregnancies and births. Notably, rural communities also bear the brunt of the opioid crisis.”
But Washington D.C. stands out—a relatively wealthy, urban, northeastern community that is simply crawling with idle hands and feet. It is unclear why that would be, but the simplest answer is that D.C. is an urban, northeastern outlier. The wealth disparities in D.C. are among the largest in the country, and D.C. consistently ranks among the poorest municipalities. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the greatest risk facing American youth is poverty itself.
“Children and families living in poverty, even those classified as middle class, will likely struggle to cough up the funds to pay for tutoring, extracurricular activities, healthy foods,” Antonio Garcia of the University of Pennsylvania told Wallet Hub. “Children can’t focus on learning and engaging in activities unless basic needs are met.”