SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 19, 2007 — A large, and largely unseen, subset of California’s population is also one of its most vulnerable and underserved, according to a new study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with support from The James Irvine Foundation. Both the plight and the size of this group—immigrant youth who are not in school—have potentially critical ramifications for the state’s future, yet most state and federal dollars spent on aid for youth never reach them.
According to the study, Out-of-School Immigrant Youth, California has more than one-quarter million (265,000) immigrants between the ages of 13 and 22 who have either dropped out of U.S. schools or have never attended them. These so-called out-of-school immigrant youth are disadvantaged by low education levels, low rates of health insurance, and high poverty rates. One of the starkest indicators of their disadvantage is in English language skills: Close to two-thirds (62%) of out-of-school immigrant youth are unable to speak English “well” or “very well,” compared to only 15 percent of in-school immigrant youth.
Ironically, their out-of-school, out-of-sight existence prevents these young people from receiving the help they need because most federal and state spending on aid for youth is through the schools. One of the key programs for out-of-school immigrant youth – the federal Migrant Education Program (MEP) – has limited capacity: Although a completely accurate count is not possible, estimates suggest only 30 percent of California’s out-of-school immigrant youth meet MEP eligibility criteria and only 8 percent actually receive MEP services.
Neglecting the education of out-of-school youth could have strong reverberations in the state’s future. “The implications here are serious because economic demand in California continues to shift away from unskilled labor,” says demographer and PPIC research fellow Laura Hill, who co-authored the report with PPIC research associate Joseph Hayes. “This is especially troubling because so many of these youths show real ambition to learn – and have plans to stay in this country.” MEP data from two California regions reveal that more than 80 percent of those who never attended a U.S. school say they want to improve their English, while nearly one-third want to earn a GED. Because many of these youths work to support families and live apart from their parents, effective ways of educating them should be explored.
The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.