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UM News
December 03, 2012


A growing portion of Montana youth have been characterized as idle over the past decade, with 17 percent of those ages 16-19 being neither employed nor enrolled in school during 2011. The increase of two percentage points since 2000 is not large, but it does demonstrate that the joblessness precipitated by the recent recession has impacted youths as well as adults, according to a researcher at The University of Montana.

Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT at UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that though the state’s rate of idle youth is higher than the national average of 13 percent, Montana managed to keep 37 percent of youth ages 16-19 employed during 2000, compared to the national rate of 26 percent.

According to a new KIDS COUNT report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity,” youths who are disengaged as a consequence of being high school dropouts and unemployed are veering toward a path of chronic underemployment as adults and risk not gaining the skills employers require in the 21st century.

“To get a job these days you need experience, but you can’t get experience without a job,” reads the report. “For youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, the challenges can be even greater.”

Recent research shows that the brains of young adults need positive work experiences early on to develop properly, including the self-management skills to meet day-to-day demands of family, work and community, Dillon said.  It is troubling – both from a physiological and from an economic perspective – that growing numbers of American and Montana youth find themselves out of school and out of work, she said.

“Many of these young people face numerous obstacles,” Dillon said. “They are often described as disconnected youth and encounter greater competition from older workers for increasingly scarce entry-level jobs, especially in light of the recession, and lack the higher skill set required for the well-paying jobs that are available. They often don’t graduate from high school on time or ready for college, further decreasing their employment options. And many contend with hurdles beyond their control, such as growing up in poverty, having few working adults as role models, attending low-performing schools and living with a single parent.”

The lack of education, opportunity and connection to school or work has long-term implications, according to the report. As adults, these youth may find themselves unable to achieve financial stability and without employment prospects. They also can present a significant cost to taxpayers, as government spends more to support them. In addition, the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show more than 20 percent, or 1.4 million of these youths, have children of their own, which means their inability to find work and build careers can perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The Casey Foundation report emphasizes the need to provide multiple, flexible pathways to success for disconnected young people, and find ways to re-engage high school dropouts. It also advocates creating opportunities for youth in school or other public systems that allow them to gain early job experience through such avenues as community service, internships and summer and part-time work. Its major recommendations include:

  • A national youth employment strategy developed by policymakers that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding and other support services more accessible and flexible; encourages more businesses to hire young people; and focuses on results, not process.
  • Aligning resources within communities and among public and private funders to create collaborative efforts to support youth.
  • Exploring new ways to create jobs through social enterprises such as Goodwill and microenterprises, with the support of public and private investors.
  • Employer-sponsored earn-and-learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require – and develop the types of employees they need.

According to Jennifer Calder, outreach coordinator with Montana KIDS COUNT, there are a number of programs in Montana that have proven successful in reconnecting youth with graduation and the workplace. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s program, Jobs for Montana’s Graduates, reaches out to schools with at-risk students to provide classroom-based career awareness, self-esteem and work-readiness skills. The Dillon-based Montana National Guard Youth Challenge helps troubled youths graduate from high school.

The KIDS COUNT report presents state-by-state data and highlights how these issues are exacerbated among youth from low-income families and among minority populations. Additional information on disconnected youth and young adults is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private national charitable organization that aims to create better futures for the nation’s children by strengthening families, building economic opportunities and transforming neighborhoods into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit KIDS COUNT is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The full report can be accessed online at





Contact: Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT, UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, , 406-243-5113,