Guest post by Lauren Bierbaum
Recently, the Aspen Institute announced a series of grants to bring 6.7 million young Americans back to education and the workforce. The Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF), whose name refers to the millions of young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market, is making an initial commitment of $6 million to 21 founding partners. These partners are in turn charged with harnessing the power of cross-sector collaboration to improve educational and employment outcomes for vulnerable young adults.
In the New Orleans region, which we serve, over 14,000 young people are disconnected from school and work. Though we have made great strides in reforming our schools, young people in our community who feel unsafe or unsuccessful in traditional educational settings still suffer from horribly inadequate safety nets. We have a growing economy, but lack the necessary infrastructure to develop young New Orleanians into a sustainable local workforce. We are a dynamic, culturally rich city, but still have not created equitable opportunity for all our youth.
The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund gives us and 20 other communities that face similar challenges a chance to change all that. We believe this work is absolutely crucial to the health and success of our city’s young people, our neighborhoods, and our economy. Each year the overall cost to the U.S. of opportunity youth is over $250 billion—including lost revenue, lost earnings, and increased social services.
The need is truly great. Fortunately, we have amazing partners to carry out this work: the City of New Orleans, Tulane University, a coalition of opportunity youth-focused service providers who are truly committed to evidence-based practice and contribute to systems-building efforts, and the young people themselves who are hungry for change and ready to contribute. Together, we will build local systems that develop and sustain all of New Orleans’ young people. Thanks to the Aspen Institute, this work will resonate not only in New Orleans, but throughout our fellow founding partner communities and, eventually, nationwide. We can’t wait to get to work.
Lauren Bierbaum is executive director of the Partnership for Youth Development in New Orleans. PYD was selected as one of the founding partners of the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund.