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Editorial: We all can have a role in engaging WV’s youth

August 1, 2018

Instability among young adults is infrequently discussed, but it’s not a societal issue that is going to right itself.

According to WalletHub, a personal finance platform that ranks states on different social matters through a number of demographic metrics, 1 in 5 of West Virginia’s 18- to 24-year-olds are neither in school, employed nor have a degree beyond high school.

Some might label such residents as lazy, aimless or unmotivated. They might feel that they are of a generation that has been spoon-fed for too long and can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps in order to find personal success.

There may be some that truly fit into those categories, but social experts say other circumstances are more likely. “Some are just floating around and they feel like there’s no place for them,” explained Marianna Linz, psychology department chair at Marshall University. “And sometimes at the policy level in West Virginia, we don’t make it clear that we have a place for them. ...”

Others are hungrier to make a start in the world, but may be underemployed or unable to find a suitable full-time job with their skill set, and can quickly feel frustrated, depressed or otherwise crushed by the weight of circumstance, explained Herald-Dispatch reporter Bishop Nash.

Living life disconnected is not the couch-surfing existence some might envision. The problems go deeper - idle young people have a high risk of poverty, early pregnancy and violence, and many may also be in poor health as a result of their circumstances, WalletHub experts explained.

As such, Linz suggested that everyone in West Virginia - from community members to legislators - take ownership of the problem and begin working toward improvements.

Those improvements could come in the form of more directional guidance during school years. Administrators, teachers and family members can rally around students at any age in order to encourage them to find their interests and identify future paths that can lead them toward meaningful careers. Having discussions about life and goals beyond high school also can start much earlier - perhaps even in middle school, said Amelia Courts, president and CEO of the West Virginia Education Alliance.

But there also have to be programs, jobs and opportunities that young adults can use to develop and help find their identities.

Recently, West Virginia’s Climb, a new information and outreach campaign with a goal of ensuring at least 60 percent of West Virginians have a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2030, was announced by the key organizations that focus on education in the state. The group’s hope is that newer and more effective collaborations between higher education, K-12, government and business and industry will emerge.

Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, told The State Journal that as more college students enroll as older adults seeking to improve their situations and income levels through more education, more needs to be done to show high school students the benefits and value that two-year degree programs can have.

The experts also pointed to policymakers as another key piece to solving the puzzle, by thinking about how their actions affect young people.

We can’t hold the hands of all the young adults who need extra guidance, but we can take strides to become more proactive so that fewer of them slip through the cracks and into disengagement. And our hope is, once a light is shined on the path to a better future, those individuals will take the first steps toward it.

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