By Mayor Greg Stanton
Many times over the years, I’ve said that the future of our city depends on the success of our youth. It seems obvious, but the reality is this is a reminder we need – all across Arizona, we must do more to lift up every child.
In Phoenix, we’ve put special attention on “opportunity youth,” ages 16 to 24, who neither work nor are in school. Research shows that if we don’t get this population re-connected into our economy quickly, and help them build the skills they need to compete, it could be an enormous long-term drain on the local economy. In fact, the Morrison Institute estimates that for each “opportunity youth” in our community, taxpayers bear a burden of $51,350 a year.
In our community, this was an especially urgent challenge. Six years ago, a Measure of America report found that nearly one in five young people in this age range fell into that category – one of the highest rates of opportunity youth in the nation. These alarming numbers got us to roll up our sleeves and find a solution.
We teamed up with ASU, the Maricopa County Education Service Agency and many others to get these youth on the path to education or employment.
By partnering with local nonprofit and community organizations, we became the first city in the nation to develop a model to standardize services at 12 re-engagement centers and share data to track our progress. Through this re-engagement network, we’ve provided support services to hundreds of youth, helping them stay in school, get back in school, or earn a job.
We’re changing lives by turning libraries into learning centers. Today, more than 120 adults are going back to school and learning skills through the library’s Career Online High School. Even better, so far 70 percent of those who earn their diploma through this program have gone on to enroll in post-secondary education options.
Our efforts are paying off, and creating opportunity. Because of this strategic partnership by city and county leaders, educational professionals and the nonprofit community to form reengagement centers, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of opportunity youth in the region.
This year’s Measure of America report even highlights Phoenix’s efforts as a model for others.
Each of our youth deserve the opportunity to succeed – and we all have a stake in the future of every youth. We still have much work to do, but the progress we’re making shows we can make a real difference for our youth and change the course of our future for the better.