By Barbara Dalio and Andrew Ferguson, Co-CEOs, Dalio Education
This op-ed originally appeared in the Hartford Courant.
Connecticut has an unspoken crisis — one that impacts every city and town — and it’s time it gets the attention it deserves.
According to a new research report by Boston Consulting Group, in 2022 one in five of Connecticut’s young people were either at-risk or disconnected. These are 119,000 young people who have either dropped out of school or are in danger of dropping out of school, and who are, for those ages 18 to 26, unemployed, and in many cases unemployable.
The full report, commissioned by Dalio Education, can be viewed here: https://www.dalioeducation.org/report/.
Many of these young people have become functionally invisible from the systems that are designed to educate and train them on a path to success.
And, as if the problem by itself isn’t staggering enough, it’s clear that COVID accelerated the deep inequities in our communities of color and the challenges that our young people face when they fall off-track or become totally disconnected.
A statewide problem that has existed for many years has now exploded into a full-blown crisis because this population has, for too long, been unrecognized and not supported in a way that truly responds to its needs.
Why should people care about this? There are two main reasons.
First, we believe we have a moral obligation to address this crisis. We believe that the 14-year-old who gets his only hot meal of the day at school is our 14-year-old, that the 16-year-old young woman who has dropped out of school because there’s no one to help keep her focused is our 16-year-old young woman; that the 19-year-old young woman who is the victim of domestic violence is our 19-year-old young woman; and that the 22-year-old young man who grew up poor and is currently unemployed is our 22-year-old young man.
We believe that we are all in this together and that it is our obligation, as a society, to leave no one behind.
People should also care because the economic implications of doing nothing about this crisis are enormous for Connecticut.
Left unaddressed, Connecticut’s unspoken crisis will result in far too many young people essentially becoming permanent wards of the state, descending into lives that are often times a combination of substance abuse, crime, incarceration, homelessness, or worse.
The report estimates that, left unaddressed, this unspoken crisis could cost Connecticut taxpayers up to $730 million per year.
Conversely, if we can get these young people back on track, many of them will become productive Connecticut taxpayers, sparking a virtuous cycle of community building that will serve as the state’s future resident base. With the right kind of help, these young people will get trained for jobs that pay well and provide good benefits, they’ll become parents of healthy children, they’ll become homeowners – and they’ll raise children who will become the same.
The economic implications are clear: Connecticut either continues to pay the cost or decides to make the necessary investments to reap the long-term benefits.
While there’s no doubt this is a crisis, it’s also true, as Albert Einstein once said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
Every single one of these 119,000 young people has a story, and if they receive the right kind of support and opportunities, many if not all can reach their potential.
We are hopeful Connecticut will seize this opportunity.
For more than a decade, we have worked closely with educators, non-profit leaders, and many others who serve young people who are off-track or disconnected. We know from our personal experience that Connecticut is home to thousands of heroes who are already doing so much good for young people.
But we also know that heroes need help, and that more people must join in the effort to address this statewide crisis.
We commissioned this report and are releasing it publicly to shine a bright light on this crisis, believing that Connecticut must first understand the crisis before it can realize the opportunity.
We offer this report in the spirit of raising public awareness, and in the hope that more people will join in the effort to get our young people back on track.
Barbara Dalio and Andrew Ferguson are the co-CEOs of Dalio Education. Barbara also is the founder of Dalio Education.