The COVID-19 pandemic hit communities of color in the United States with a disproportionate ferocity that exposed and exploited generations of inequity. For vulnerable youth and young adults residing in these communities—including young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who were out of school and out of work (a population known as opportunity youth)—the impact of the pandemic was devastating. Despite a decades-long drop in the opportunity youth population, which decreased from 5.8 million to 4.4 million between 2011 and 2021, during the pandemic the number of opportunity youth rose dramatically to more than 6 million. But even before COVID, having more than 4 million youth disconnected from education and the economy was far too many. Unfortunately, without new dedicated pathways into education and careers, opportunity youth will experience reduced life outcomes, including double the chances of living in poverty and a less than 1 percent chance of ever getting a college degree.

The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions’ Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF) was created to change the life trajectories of our country’s most vulnerable youth and young adults. At OYF, we invest in community-based, cross-system, and cross-sector collaboratives focused on building education and career pathways for opportunity youth. Our national network has grown to include 40 local collaboratives in urban, rural, and tribal communities that are home to more than 3 million young people. Using a collective impact approach and working in partnership with opportunity youth, local collaboratives led by a community-appointed backbone organization work in tandem to knit together the many systems that touch the lives of opportunity youth, including school districts, community colleges, workforce agencies, juvenile justice, and child welfare. Far too often, these systems allow young adults to fall between the cracks in their transition to adulthood. OYF invests in young people and their communities to deepen the infrastructure and capacity of collaboratives to improve outcomes for young people and future generations of low-income children and families.

Read the full article about Opportunity Youth by Monique Miles and Lili Allen at Stanford Social Innovation Review.