Beyond Labor Markets and Schools: Community-Based Youth Serving Organizations and the Integration of Puerto Rican and Dominican Disconnected Youth in New York City

By Visser, M. Anne | Centro Journal, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Beyond Labor Markets and Schools: Community-Based Youth Serving Organizations and the Integration of Puerto Rican and Dominican Disconnected Youth in New York City


Visser, M. Anne, Centro Journal


Concern for disconnected youth-individuals aged 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school and not in the labor market-continues to grow across the United States. Estimates suggest that at any given time more than 10 percent of youth may be disconnected from formal employment and educational systems, and that Latino youth-particularly those of Puerto Rican and Dominican origin-are overrepresented in this population (Meléndez, Visser, and Birson 2014). Higher rates of disconnection among Puerto Rican and Dominican youth are not inconsequential. Youth who experience disconnection from school and employment are more likely to experience negative outcomes in adulthood including: poverty, long-term unemployment, substance abuse and dependency, and poor health (MacCurdy et al. 2006). Such outcomes are further compounded by a reality that after the Great Recession, Latino youth continue to experience higher rates of unemployment/ underemployment and longer spells of unemployment than their peers, which suggests that rates of disconnection for Puerto Rican and Dominican youth will likely continue to increase (Kahn 2010).

Research on disconnected youth has traditionally conceptualized "connectivity" as attachment to formal education and labor market institutions and generally equates a successful transition to adulthood with obtainment of full-time employment (Pfeiffer 2009; Wald and Martinez 2003). Such a conceptualization has supported the development and implementation of policy interventions aimed at supporting disconnected youth that emphasize educational retention and job skill development as primary policy strategies (Mincy 2006; Pfeiffer 2009). Yet scholars suggest that the process of youth disconnection begins much earlier than the point at which current policies intervene and is influenced by factors beyond education and access to work (Holzer 2010; Wald and Martinez 2003). Studies in the community and youth development fields highlight the importance of "community connectedness" and its potential to influence socioeconomic outcomes for youth. This research argues that institutions and policy networks embedded in community settings can influence developmental trajectories of young people by providing a sense of belonging and meaning, as well as access to resources and social networks, which, in turn, may influence labor market participation and educational achievement patterns (D'Agostino and Visser 2010; Erickson 1968; Scales et al. 2000: Zeldin 2004; Whitlock 2007). Applied to disconnected youth, this suggests that the institutions and policy networks available in the local communities in which these young people engage may offer avenues to promote the integration and reintegration of this population into education and labor market institutions. Yet, to date, no empirical research has been done to understand the types of organizations and policy networks present in the communities in which disconnected youth are engaged, the types of services and activities undertaken by these organizations. Nor has it been determined how these community actors may be positioned or leveraged to impact socioeconomic outcomes for this youth population.

This paper begins to address this gap in the literature by developing a framework for understanding the types of community organizations and institutions present in the local settings in which Latino disconnected youth are engaged, and their potential for improving outcomes experienced by this particular youth population. These institutions and policy networks are examined across three New York City neighborhoods: Central Harlem, East Harlem, and Washington Heights. The large number of Latino youth, particularly those of Puerto Rican and Dominican origin, who are out of school and out of work in these geographic areas has garnered considerable attention from local leaders and policymakers (Meléndez et al. 2012) (see Table 1). As in many other cities across the nation, youth in New York City have experienced increasingly tight labor markets and reduced levels of economic opportunity and security after the Great Recession, which has led to an increase in the population of disconnected youth as a whole across the nation. …

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