8 months ago

Opportunity Youth: Disenfranchised Young People

Opportunity Youth: Disenfranchised Young People

2/9/2018 Disconnected

2/9/2018 Disconnected Youth: Out of School and Out of Work in Rural America The shift is due mostly to a decline in high school enrollment in rural areas after 2011, and an increase in college enrollment in urban areas over the same period. Rural employment also is a large part of the issue, as jobs in many parts of the country have failed to recover from the recession while urban jobs have bounced back and climbed from pre-recession peaks. Schools all over rural America are contemplating changes to get some students more job skills while still in high school and to ensure that others go to college and graduate. “It is no longer enough for schools to simply teach reading, math and science,” said Randy Watson, the Kansas education commissioner. Some students may need to spend most of their time building skills rather than on academic courses, he said. And rural isolation can lead to limited horizons. “For many students, the only career opportunities they know are those they are exposed to within their own hometowns,” Watson said. “In smaller, rural areas these may be limited.” For rural youth, a deep attachment to home can also make it difficult to leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere, said Richard Settersten, a professor of family science at Oregon State University. “It has to do with their often deep connections to place, and the challenges associated with leaving those communities and navigating worlds that are sometimes so foreign from what they’ve known,” Settersten said. ‘Not Much Here for Them’ The tourist trade swells the population in the northern part of Worcester County to hundreds of thousands in the summer, as families from nearby Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., flock to the gleaming white hotels and pristine summer houses of Ocean City and nearby beach towns. But in the south end of the county, there are many vacant, peeling storefronts and some abandoned and overgrown houses in downtown Pocomoke City. And year-round job prospects for local youth are dismal. Jennifer Lamade, program director for the county health department, said the growing stress on the local population can be seen in the increasing number of drug- and alcohol-related deaths, which she said jumped from six in 2013 to 16 in 2015, because of increases in heroin and fentanyl overdoses. The rate of anxiety and other mental health issues has tripled since 2008, according the county’s annual health indicators report. 5/7

2/9/2018 Disconnected Youth: Out of School and Out of Work in Rural America Lamade said the county health department is now looking for input on how to reduce the youth disconnection rate and will apply for state funds. The most likely use, she said, would be to help young people in remote areas of the county get transportation to job skills training in Salisbury, about 25 miles from Pocomoke City. Even in summer, when Ocean City’s tourist trade is in high gear, Worcester County’s unemployment rate is higher than the state average: 5.7 to 4.4 percent last July. And the unemployment rate more than doubles in the winter months — it was 13.5 percent in January. That’s particularly tough for young people graduating from high school without college plans. “After they graduate, there isn’t much here for them if they stay. They can work in Ocean City but that’s a long way away and only for a few months,” said Brooke Gillespie, a Pocomoke High School teacher who volunteers after school to help students learn job skills so they can be competitive for a shrinking number of good jobs in the area. The county’s population has grown slightly in the last 10 years, by about 800 people between 2006 and 2016, about 2 percent, which is good by rural standards. The rural population of the U.S. dropped by about 33,000 a year since 2010, though the decrease lessened to about 4,000 in 2015, the latest year available, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But Worcester County also lost almost 1,200 jobs in construction and manufacturing in that time. Shore areas like Worcester once had thriving tomato canneries and seafood processing plants that provided work in the offseason and drew immigrants to small towns like Pocomoke, said Andrew Lazur, director of the University of Maryland’s Sea Grant program, which works with local governments on shore issues. But it was hard, low-paid work even in its heyday in the 1970s, and much of the industry has moved overseas, Lazur said. “The world is changing. Twenty years ago, kids liked to work part time in the summer in these oyster and crab industries,” Lazur said. “Now nobody wants that type of job anymore.” Pocomoke City Manager Ernie Crofoot said there’s a problem with both job availability and worker availability in the southern part of the county. Young people need more and better jobs than they can get at places like the Wal-Mart on Ocean Highway, but employers often don’t see a large enough pool of potential workers. “It’s a chicken and egg thing,” Crofoot said. The city is trying to help attract manufacturing jobs to a local industrial park, but sometimes has a hard time making a case despite high unemployment. “They ask me, ‘Where are the workers going to come from?’ ” 6/7

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