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WASHINGTON, D.C., August 27, 2009 -- Low-income African American youth engage in fewer risky behaviors than low-income white youth, a new Urban Institute analysis of federal data reveals. And, a companion analysis shows second-generation Latinos make a more successful transition into the labor market than black and third-generation Latino youth.


Adolescent blacks in low-income households (those below twice the federal poverty level) are less likely than low-income whites to use alcohol by age 13, sell drugs, destroy property, or run away. However, blacks are more likely to report having sex by age 16. The two groups have similar high school graduation rates, but blacks have lower median annual incomes after graduation.


Between ages 18 and 24, 56 percent of second-generation Latinos are consistently connected to school or jobs. That’s higher than for third-generation Latinos (44 percent) and blacks (42 percent) but lower than for whites (65 percent). Yet, second-generation Latinos are as likely to hold regular jobs or to be in school as white youth with similar personal, family, and neighborhood characteristics. At age 23, consistently connected Latinos have annual earnings on par with whites, blacks, and third-generation Latinos, though the long-term outlook for second-generation Latinos is unclear since they are more likely than whites to end their education with a high school diploma.


This research on young blacks and Latinos is part of a collection of eight brief studies on vulnerable youth, risky behavior, and the transition to adulthood. The other briefs examine school and work participation for young men and women, youth from troubled neighborhoods, youth from low-income families, and those suffering from depression/anxiety. Data came from a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that followed a sample of adolescents from 1997 into young adulthood in 2005.


Analyzing school and work participation, the Urban Institute researchers found four patterns:

·    60 percent are employed or enrolled in school almost continuously between ages 18 and 24. These consistently connected youth engage in considerably fewer risky behaviors than other youth.

·    15 percent have relatively low levels of connection to school or work at age 18, but by age 24, approximately 90 percent of them are studying or employed. Overall, this group has relatively low earnings, possibly because they have less education and job tenure.

·    15 percent are students or job holders at age 18 but become disconnected by age 24. Some milestone event, such as the birth of a child or incarceration, may cause these youth to leave their jobs or school.

·    10 percent are persistently disconnected from school or employment, have substantially higher dropout rates, engage in more risky behaviors, and have higher crime rates than consistently connected youth.


Other Findings

·    Youth from low-income families engage in more risky behaviors than those from middle-income and high-income families. They are more likely to have sex before age 16, join a gang, attack someone, steal something worth more than $50, and run away from home. However, they are not more likely to use alcohol and marijuana, sell drugs, or destroy property. Young women from low-income families are more likely to be a parent by age 18.

·    Youth from low-income families with a full-time working adult exhibit about the same number of risky behaviors as youth from low-income homes with no full-time working adult.

·    Youth from distressed neighborhoods (census tracts in which 30 percent or more of the households are at or below the federal poverty level) do not engage in more risky behaviors than youth from non-distressed neighborhoods, but they are far more likely to have had sex by age 13 and, for young women, to be a parent by age 18.

·    Young men take part in more risky behaviors during adolescence than young women. They are more likely to use alcohol at an early age and to engage in criminal activities. Young men are also more likely than females to stop their education with a high school diploma. Still, young men consistently earn more than young women between the ages of 18 and 23.

·    Youth with depression/anxiety engage in more risky behaviors than those experiencing less or no depression/anxiety. They are more likely to use marijuana and have sex by age 16; use other drugs, get into a fight, steal, and run away from home by age 18; and drop out of high school and, in the case of women, have a child at age 18.


“Youth transitioning to adulthood are in many ways a hidden population,” says Jennifer Macomber, the research project’s co-leader. “Most service systems focus on children through age 18, but many youth, particularly those who do not enjoy support from their families or the structure of higher education, may not get the help they need to sustain stable employment and schooling.”


Read the Research

The eight research briefs are

·    Low-Income African American Youth

·    Second-Generation Latinos Connecting to School and Work

·    Multiple Pathways Connecting to School and Work

·    Youth from Distressed Neighborhoods

·    Youth from Low-Income Families

·    Young Men and Young Women

·    Youth with Depression/Anxiety

·    Youth from Low-Income Working Families


The project was led by Jennifer Macomber and Michael Pergamit with the participation of Marla McDaniel, Tracy Vericker, Daniel Kuehn, Erica Zielewski, Adam Kent, and Heidi Johnson. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.



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