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Disconnected Youth are more likely to grow up in poverty than their peers and were hit hardest by the recent recession. They are unlikely to have role models with degrees, the qualifications they need, transportation options for traveling to a job, or access to good jobs in their neighborhoods.

So what can we do to try to tackle this issue while everyone’s in the Christmas spirit?

This problem is so pervasive that it really needs to be addressed at a national level with social programs. And there are programs that work.  Through Project U-Turn, the City of Philadelphia raised the city’s high school graduation rates from 52% in 2005 to 64% in 2012.  The program recently won $499,000 in funding from the Aspen Institute as part of a plan to use it as a prototype for a national model. Another program is YouthBuild, a nationwide Department of Labor program for high school dropouts. In addition, AmeriCorps-funded programs, which offer young people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to serve in communities across the country, have been found to improve graduation and employment rates. The 2009 Serve America Act passed by Congress committed to increasing the number of AmeriCorps positions from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017. But the Act has not been implemented, and 85% of more than half a million applicants were turned down in 2012.

On top of the social responsibility factor of giving our nation’s young people opportunities, investing in our youth makes sound financial sense for the country. Because the long-term societal costs of disconnected youth who don’t get help include lost taxes, more government transfers, higher prison budgets, and other untold costs, upfront investment in these programs is much more economical.

On a personal level, I would suggest donating to local chapters of programs like the Urban League and Jobs Corp. If you own your own business, take on a young intern, or find another way to mentor an at-risk kid. ‘Tis the season!

Mellody is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts.  Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.

Who are Opportunity Youth?  was originally published on blackamericaweb.com

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