Disconnected Youth


Measure of America of the Social Research Council1 defines “disconnected youth” as teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. Measure of America’s national data shows that disconnected youth are disproportionately poor, living with disabilities, and parenting children. They tend to have higher unemployment rates and negative physical and mental health outcomes. Only four percent of disconnected youth have college degrees.

Disconnection and Social Factors

In general—not specific to people with disabilities—race/ethnicity, poverty, and living in a rural area impact the rates of disconnection for youth. People who are black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American are more likely to be disconnected than people who are white or Asian with the same income level. Nationally, disconnection rates range from nearly one in 14 Asian American youth to more than one in four Native American youth. Approximately one in ten white youth are disconnected, one in seven Hispanic/Latino youth, and one in five black youth.

Bar chart showing rates of youth disconnection by race ethnicity

In states where white youth are faring the worst, they are still doing better than black youth, on average, nationally. In states where black youth are faring the best, they are not doing as well as white youth, on average, nationally.

Living in poverty increases the probability of disconnection, with a disproportionate impact on youth of color. For example, although the probability of disconnection increases as household income decreases, Native American youth living at 500% of the federal poverty level face roughly the same probability of disconnection as white youth with incomes well below the poverty line.

Disconnection and Population Area

For youth living in rural areas, opportunities for connection may be far from home, and transportation may not be readily available. The youth disconnection rate in rural areas is 20.3%, much higher than the rate for urban areas (14.2%) or suburban areas (12.4%). Metropolitan areas may have significant variation in rates of youth disconnection.

Measure of America provided data for the following six Texas Metro areas:

Bar chart showing percent of disconnected youth by Texas metro area

Disconnection and Disability

Disconnected youth are disproportionately living with disabilities. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires each state to develop a six-year performance plan and to annually report on state efforts to implement IDEA by February 1 of each year. The most recent report publicly available from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2014.2

Texas collects data for the report in the Public Information Education Management System (PEIMS), which includes all TEA data about public education, including student demographic and academic performance, personnel, financial, and organizational information.

Indicator 14 reports the percentages of students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in effect when they left school and who achieved specific outcomes within one year of leaving school in education or training and competitive or other employment. Baseline reporting on Indicator 14 began in the school year 2009, after which targets were established annually. Indicator 14 is one of 17 indicators for monitoring priorities in five areas, including effective transition.

Although Indicator 14 has three specific parts, the report includes additional data of interest. The three parts of Indicator 14 are:

  • 14A. Enrolled in higher education.
  • 14B. Enrolled in higher education OR competitively employed.
  • 14C. Enrolled in higher education or some other postsecondary education or training program; OR competitive employed or in other employment. (20 USC 1416(a)(3)(B))

The following figure shows the percentage of students responding in each of five subcategories.

Pie chart showing 14 outcomes of students with IEPs with in one year of exiting secondary school

Higher percentages of individuals who are Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, or black are not engaged in activity than white respondents or respondents of two or more races. The following table shows the percentage outcomes by race for four subcategories of activity/no activity in FFY 2014.

Bar chart showing percent of disconnected youth by race, ethnicity engaged in education or employment in 2014

In some years, respondents have also been categorized by diagnosis for each type of response given. During FFY 2014, a higher percentage of individuals who were deaf-blind or who had intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injury, or autism were not engaged in any activity, compared to individuals with any other diagnosis (i.e., auditory impairment, emotional disturbance, learning disabled, other health impaired, speech impairment, visual impairment).

The data for FFY 2016 (October 1, 2015-September 30, 2016) should be available to the public by the end of May 2017.


  1. Measure of America (MOA), a project of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Social Science Research Council webinar titled “Moving the Needle on Youth Disconnection: Insights from Measure of America’s New Report.” 
  2. Texas Education Agency. FFY 2014 State Performance Plan—Annual Performance Report Texas. Austin, Texas.