The young and the disconnected: America’s youth unemployment problem

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The mentor and mentee sat in a room in the Latin American Youth Center, dreaming of a future neither knew how to fully attain.

“How many jobs do you think you’ve applied for?”  Jaime Roberts asked her mentee.

Manuel Hernandez laughed nervously. The question seemed so important, but the goal seemed so futile.

“I stopped counting,” Hernandez said. “Maybe 12? Maybe more?”

Hernandez is 24. He has never held a steady job, never went college and has a felony conviction. But he also has a budding artist as a son, who keeps asking for an art set that Dad can’t afford to buy.

The mistakes in his past have resulted in him being stuck in a national economic conundrum: how to help young people, between 16 and 24, who are neither enrolled in school nor employed. Policymakers call them “disconnected youth.” Hernandez calls them “friends.

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