The Challenge

America faces a crisis. We are in danger of losing our next generation of young people and their contributions to society as increasing numbers of low-income youth are dropping out or falling behind in school, cannot find a job, are in the foster care or juvenile justice system, or are otherwise at risk of not living up to their potential.

The economic costs as well as the human costs are great. Our high rate of youth unemployment, our low ranking in international educational surveys, our swollen prison population and other indicators warn that America is also losing comparative advantages in a highly competitive global marketplace.

Twenty percent of our children live in poverty.

  • 6.5 million live in deep poverty.

3 in 10 teen American girls will get pregnant at least once before age 20. That's nearly 750,000 teen pregnancies every year.

Thirty percent of public school students fail to graduate from high school.

  • 1.3 million drop out of high school each year.
  • American 15-year-olds rank 14th in reading skills among their peers in 34 developed nations, 17th in science, and 25th in math.

Lack of education leads to lack of employment, particularly in a poor economy.

  • The unemployment rate among 16-to-24-year-olds was 18.1 percent in July 2011, with some 4.1 million youths unemployed.
  • 5.8 million young people nationwide–one in seven of those aged 16 to 24–are neither in school nor working.  

This is a national crisis, and in failing to address it successfully we are failing our youth. Solutions exist. There are programs with compelling evidence they actually work and help young people overcome poverty and the obstacles it throws in their way.

Yet at a time when resources are under economic and political constraints, we are funding programs that do not have convincing evidence of their effectiveness, and providing insufficient funding to programs with evidence that they are effective.

Even when we have proof that a program works, it is difficult to expand it to a scale at which it can benefit youth nationwide. Tackling this crisis requires propelling effective programs to greater scale. Resolving it requires changing how the public and private sectors fund what works.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation has over a decade’s experience in identifying and helping to expand programs that lift the life prospects of the most neglected youth, the hardest to reach and least likely to succeed. In addition to being poor, these young people:

  • Have dropped out of school or are close to doing so;
  • Are out of school and out of work;
  • Are involved in or exiting the justice system;
  • Are involved in or transitioning out of foster care; and/or
  • Are engaged in or in danger of engaging in risky behaviors that can lead to crime, teen pregnancy and other disruptions in already troubled lives.

More than ten years have taught us how hard it is to turn lives around, but they have also convinced us that our investment approach can help grantees with effective programs meet the challenge of creating a better future for our children and our nation.