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Opportunity Youth in Texas

Identifying and Reengaging the State’s Disconnected Young People
Opportunity Youth in Texas

October 2019

Anna Crockett, Emily Ryder Perlmeter and Molly Hubbert Doyle


Opportunity (or “disconnected”) youth are defined as young people age 16–24 who are neither in school nor working.[1] A staggering 4.5 million young people fall into that category in the U.S., according to 2017 data, the most recent available. That’s 11.5 percent of all people in this age group. This is down from a recent peak of 14.7 percent in 2010 after the Great Recession.[2] While many adverse situations contribute to a young adult becoming disconnected from school and the workforce, researchers coined the phrase “opportunity youth” to emphasize their potential economic and social contributions. As such, much of the ongoing research focuses on how employers and schools can help reengage opportunity youth so they can fulfill that potential.[3]

Without these interventions, the cost of opportunity youth often falls on the public in the form of governmental assistance programs and incarceration expenditures. Compared with their peers, opportunity youth are more likely to be incarcerated, have a disability and/or live in poverty, and they are less likely to be in good health.[4] This disengagement, therefore, has real consequences—not just for the individuals themselves, but also for their families, their neighborhoods and their communities.

The effects of reengagement are similarly widespread. When opportunity youth go back to school or get a job, they increase their lifetime earnings and can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for their descendants. There are also potential fiscal benefits for government—and for taxpayers.[5] Because they see potential in these opportunity youth—both economic and otherwise—many researchers and practitioners are working hard to reengage them.


Lead Author

  • Anna Crockett
    Community Development Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Houston Branch



This report benefited tremendously from the help of our partner, Educate Texas. The authors would particularly like to thank Natalie Applegate and Hannah Gourgey for their insights and contributions. The authors also extend special thanks to all interviewees and focus group participants.

The information and views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas or Federal Reserve System; nor do they constitute an endorsement of any organization or program.

Full report is available online: