The transition from school to work can be problematic for young people from low-income families; it is a subject of considerable public attention and that of the youth service sector (Bynner & Parsons, 2002). Without a job or an opportunity to study, these youths may encounter financial, social, and eventually mental and behavioral problems (Creed, 1999; Schaufeli, 1997). However, this paper argues that there are opportunities for them to flourish despite their deprived family backgrounds. Revealing the factors that underlie such success is important to help them gain autonomy and a prosperous future.
Very little research is available both in Hong Kong and elsewhere that concerns the factors relating to the success of young people from low-income families. A review of the literature reveals that these youths are at greater risk of experiencing problems due to their economic disadvantage (Kmec & Fustenberg, 2002; Rich, 1999). This disadvantage arises from the financial problems in their family, which undermine their social networks and social capital. Research also suggests that the contextual factors, and notably the economic factors, in a youth's family shape the life path of that person. A culture of poverty can entrench adverse family conditions, and perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty and failure (Corcoran & Adams, 1997). The identification of low-income families as a source of problems for young people is an important first step in the provision of help and services to them, but what is more important, both for research and for practice, is the identification of the factors that help these youngsters thrive.
In Hong Kong, the transition from school to work has attracted some notable research attention. For instance, one study shows that youth mental problems are related to unemployment and job search behavior (Lai & Chan, 2002). Others indicate adverse work conditions during the recession as a factor (Chiu, Ho, & Lui, 1997; Kwong, 1997). At a macro level, the occurrence of serious youth problems is attributable to the economic climate (Estes, 2002); thus youth poverty is a significant issue. As a result of the economic downturn since 1997, the unemployment rate for those aged between 15 and 24 has been hovering from 10 to 15% (Census & Statistics Department, 2006). The median monthly income of working youth is $6,500 (US$831), which is below the median monthly income $10,000/US$1278) of the working population (Social Sciences Research Center, 2004). Moreover, the number of both senior secondary and post-secondary students receiving financial assistance (such as fee remission assistance and means-tested grant and loan assistance) has been rising dramatically in recent years (Social Sciences Research Center, 2004). All these show that the poverty problem among young people is escalating (Ngai & Ngai, 2007; Wong, 2006).
Social capital and social support are important factors in youth development. Social support can be viewed as a means of acquiring social capital (Markward, McMillan, & Markward, 2003). In other words, young people acquire social capital through support from family, peers, and other social systems (Holland, Reynolds, & Weller, 2007). In addition to the role of "significant others," Stanton-Salazar (1997) holds that social support also comes from institutional agents, those who have the capacity and commitment to transmit directly, or negotiate the transmission of institutional resources and opportunities such as social workers, counselors, and job-training providers. Past research also has revealed that young people who participated in programs to enhance their personal development, including social work programs, were more likely to be successful in education (Campbell & Ramey, 1994; Huston, Duncan, Granger, Bos, McLoyd, Mistry, Crosby, Gibson, Magnuson, Remich, & Ventura, 2001). …