It’s tough for a southern kid born at the bottom of the income ladder to get ahead. Overcoming regional economic hardship, long-tolerated racial inequity and subpar education infrastructure is almost impossible. But there is progress. This issue brief examines two key elements connecting southern young adults with rewarding employment opportunities: employer and youth engagement. The brief offers a framework to assess the preconditions for effectively engaging employers and young adults and identifies examples of promising efforts. It also considers what philanthropy can do to reinforce the importance of employer and youth engagement and expand the use of both in the South.
The Theory? Engaging employers and young adults can change the job opportunity landscape in the South
Findings & Stats
The slow transformation of the South from a low-wage, low-cost, low-skill region to a high-value, living-wage region seems much more challenging now than 20 years ago.
A child born in the bottom fifth of the economic ladder in the South has a less than 7% chance of rising to the top fifth.
San Jose, Calif., has the best mobility rate at 13% for a young person looking to move from the lowest to the highest income zone, while Memphis, Tenn., has the worst mobility rate at 3%.
School Spending Slide
K-12 spending per student eroded in every southern state except Tennessee between the 2008 and 2014 fiscal years, with the rate of decline in Alabama leading the nation.
Five years after the start of the Great Recession, underemployment rates for workers younger than 25 exceeded the U.S. average in six southern states at more than 30%.
Construction of strong education-to-career pathways — deliberately designed to produce talent development pipelines — can connect southern youth and young adults to jobs that pay well.
Statements & Quotations
Employers create jobs. Their deep involvement in setting strategy, mobilizing civic and political will, raising resources, realigning their workplaces to provide environments where effective work-based learning can take hold and advocating practice and policy change in public workforce and education systems undergirds and accelerates change.
Improving the mobility of youth and young adults in the South means building a new roadbed on ground that has been saturated with inequality. It requires courageous conversations that acknowledge the flawed design of systems created in eras of racial prejudice, and leaders willing to look squarely at the structural inequities built into them.
The case studies in this report illuminate communities that are struggling to address these issues, sometimes imperfectly, but struggling with them nonetheless. As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
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