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Analysis of Recently Released Data Suggest Youth Disconnection Declined in 2021 After Climbing During the Pandemic

Recent American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2021 provide insights into youth engagement in North Carolina over the past two years.

Author: Jonathan Guarine

“Disconnected youth” (or “opportunity youth”) are teens and young adults ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working. Youth disconnection has come down from its pandemic highs based on recently released American Community Survey (ACS) data.1 In 2021, North Carolina’s disconnection rate was 12.1%, equating to about 155,000 youth who were neither enrolled nor employed. The decline in the statewide rate parallels movements at the national level where youth disconnection likewise decreased to 12.1% in 2021, down from 12.6% in 2020. The downward shift at both the national and state level is an encouraging development, especially given the experience after the Great Recession when youth disconnection remained elevated for a few years after the official recession had ended.

The findings align with a previous LEAD analysis on opportunity youth, which was based on Current Population Survey (CPS) data.2 The robust labor market recovery of 2021 was a driving force in the quick downtick in disconnection from 2020 to 2021. Yet with depressed postsecondary enrollment continuing across the nation, a lingering question remains whether youth are foregoing additional education and training opportunities in favor of more immediate labor market returns.


1This article incorporates 2021 ACS 1-Year Public Use Microdata (PUMS) files released on October 20, 2022.

2To explore the differences between the ACS, CPS, and other survey-based estimates, visit The United States Census Bureau.

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