With about one in nine young Americans today neither working nor in school, exposing them to greater risk of poverty and violence, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2021’s States with the Most At-Risk Youth,

To determine where young Americans are not faring as well as others in their age group, especially in a year made extremely stressful by the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 15 key indicators of youth risk. The data set ranges from the share of disconnected youth to the labor force participation rate among youth to the youth poverty rate.

States with Most At-Risk Youth States with Least At-Risk Youth
1. Louisiana 42. New York
2. Mississippi 43. Vermont
3. Nevada 44. Virginia
4. Alabama 45. Maryland
5. West Virginia 46. Utah
6. Arkansas 47. Minnesota
7. Wyoming 48. Connecticut
8. South Carolina 49. New Hampshire
9. Alaska 50. New Jersey
10. District of Columbia 51. Massachusetts

Key Stats

  • Alaska has the highest share of disconnected youth, 18.00 percent, which is three times higher than in North Dakota and Vermont, the lowest at 6.00 percent.
  • New Mexico has the highest share of youth without a high school diploma, 16.70 percent, which is 2.3 times higher than in Hawaii, the lowest at 7.30 percent
  • Kentucky has the highest share of overweight or obese youth, 57.10 percent, which is 1.8 times higher than in the District of Columbia, the lowest at 30.90 percent
  • Vermont has the highest share of youth using drugs in the past month, 39.70 percent, which is 2.5 times higher than in South Dakota, the lowest at 15.90 percent
  • Oregon has the highest share of homeless youth, 0.36 percent, which is 18 times higher than in Mississippi, the lowest at 0.02 percent.

To view the full report and your state or the District’s rank, please visit:

More from WalletHub

Expert Commentary

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce the number of rural youths who are disconnected from school and work?

“One of the biggest issues that many disconnected youths have is that they simply do not know their options. At the local level, districts could consider hiring a coordinator to reach out directly to these students to alert them to potential opportunities related to education or work – whether that is options for completing a high school diploma or a vocational training program that provides some sort of industry-recognized credential. Helping students identify these opportunities and providing them reliable access to such programming (transportation could be a particular challenge in rural areas with fewer such options) could help encourage them to reengage.”
Jay Plasman, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, Ohio State University

“Several disparities impact rural youth including a digital gap (rural areas are less likely to have high-speed internet at home than urban areas) as well as lower employment opportunities. Teen summer employment has been particularly impacted by the pandemic. Some important policy fixes could be increasing access to free or low-cost high-speed internet in rural areas, and particularly for Black and Hispanic youth. Creating opportunities for paid internships could also help teens and young adults learn trades and gain important skills. And of course, making college more affordable.”
Zoe E. Taylor, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Purdue University, West Lafayette

What tips/advice do you have for parents to support young people who want to stay in school and seek employment?

“Parents can connect with school guidance counselors and community social workers to help youth get back on track. Community youth programs can also help by engaging youth to develop their strengths and to provide adult guidance on academic and non-academic concerns.
Youth mentors can be a great resource for disconnected youth, but communities need to come together and strengthen resources that will engage youth. This will take financial resources – for example, funding programs to help youth finish their GED as well as to find work that fits their strengths and abilities.”
Jacqueline V Lerner, Ph.D. – Professor, Boston College

“Parents of disconnected youth often are struggling themselves which can make it extremely challenging to help a disconnected youth or to prevent their child from becoming disconnected. Parents can encourage their adolescents to stay in school to have the opportunities for a rewarding and meaningful job in the future. They could also help their teen build connections to other quality relationships. This could be encouraging their teen to participate in a sport or join a club, or volunteer in a community organization that has meaning to them.”
Zoe E. Taylor, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Purdue University, West Lafayette

What are the best ways for local authorities to encourage productivity for idle youth while maintaining safety during the current economic crisis?

“First, they must be aware of young people’s developmental needs, which are varied and need activities that deal with intellectual stimulation, activities that promote physical activities, and special interests. The programs must be readily available and located where children can attend and provide activities that address youth interests and provide opportunities to speak to staff to help them with any adjustment issues.”
Ruby M. Gourdine, DSW, LICSW, LCSW – Professor, Howard University School of Social Work

“Providing safe spaces for youth to gather in communities for both recreation and skill development would be a positive step toward helping disengaged youth. Local authorities can engage with local businesses to provide opportunities for youth to be productive (internship programs; shadowing programs, skill development, and training). When communities come together to understand what youth need (and what communities need to help youth engage), and then provide the resources to help youth thrive, positive youth development is more likely to occur.”
Jacqueline V Lerner, Ph.D. – Professor, Boston College

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