Youth support needed to secure future of California’s Capital Region, UC Davis report says

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The Sacramento Capital Region can prosper and achieve its full potential only if it drastically improves education, health, civic participation and job opportunities for the region’s young people, according to a UC Davis study commissioned by the Sierra Health Foundation.

The study, “Healthy Youth/Healthy Regions,” is the first in the nation to examine youth health and well-being on a regional scale and across multiple issues, said study leader Jonathan London, a professor of human and community development and director of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

The study was released today during a presentation to community leaders and media at the Sierra Health Foundation office in Sacramento.

The two-year research project was funded by the Sierra Health Foundation with additional support from The California Endowment.

“The message we heard over and over again in this research is that there is no greater challenge and no greater potential opportunity for the Capital Region than coming together to care for our young people and for young people themselves to play leadership roles in this effort,” London said.

The report focused on young people ages 12 to 24 in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

It documents disparities in resources and opportunities available to the region’s youth based on their geographic location, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, immigration status and other factors, and offers a startling set of youth statistics for the region:

Graduation rates

  • Of the approximately 41,000 students who entered ninth grade in 2004, only 66 percent graduated in four years.
  • In 2008, 9,000 students in the region left high school without graduating, increasing costs for services to support these youth and decreasing their potential earning power.
  • The estimated lifetime cost for just one year’s high school dropouts in the Capital Region totals $480 million for state and local governments, and more than $1 billion for the federal government.
  • Cutting the region’s drop-out rate in half would yield $1.5 billion in savings to state and local governments.
  • Only 28 percent of Latino students and 31 percent of African-American students attend schools with high or very high graduation rates (schools in the region ranked in the top 40 percent for graduation rates).This contrasts with 57 percent for white students and 38 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students.

Higher Education

  • Among students who graduated from the region’s high schools in 2008, only 23 percent had completed the courses required to enter the University of California or California State University systems, compared with 37 percent statewide.
  • Only 39 percent of the region’s students entered a public college or university (including four-year and community colleges) within one year of graduation, far fewer than the statewide average of 55 percent.
  • Fewer than one in 10 middle school students reported high levels of adult encouragement to explore future careers or pursue formal education.

Employment

  • In 2008, one in five of the Capital Region’s 20- to 24-year-olds were neither enrolled in school nor employed.
  • Latino and African-American youth are underrepresented in high-growth and high-wage professions in health care and education and overrepresented in retail jobs.
  • Young people in lower-income areas reported a lack of adult counseling to seek jobs. Latino youths reported lowest levels of such support.

“We hope this study will provide the information needed for sectors throughout our region to determine where investment in young people is needed to ensure their health and well-being, which in turn will allow them to contribute to the region’s ability to remain competitive and prosperous in the global economy,” said Sierra Health Foundation President and CEO Chet Hewitt.

London and his research team, which included faculty experts and graduate and undergraduate students from multiple disciplines, looked at a wide range of census, education, health, employment, voting and other data.

The team also surveyed middle-school youth and conducted in-depth interviews with “adult allies,” including guidance counselors, health providers, teachers and family members. In addition, the study drew on original research conducted by young people in the region.

“The future prosperity of the Capital Region will depend on our ability to prepare young people for success in a challenging and ever-changing economy,” said David Butler, CEO of Linking Education and Economic Development, a Sacramento-based coalition of business, education and government leaders focused on strengthening the region’s economy. “The Healthy Youth/Healthy Regions study is a clear, concise benchmark for the region to help ensure that all of our youth graduate from high school are prepared for the workplace and relevant post-secondary education.”

The 40-page report recommends a wide range of actions, but emphasizes that:

  • programs aimed at reducing school dropout rates, improving mental and physical health, providing sustained mentoring and increasing quality job opportunities must be better integrated and supported through more effective use and targeting of resources; and
  • Capital-area leaders need to convene a forum that would bring together youth and adults from across the region to help shape and coordinate regional youth strategies.

The report documents youths’ own commitment to improve community and regional conditions — whether by engaging in social and digital media storytelling, supporting their families and peers, or getting involved in their communities.

“Youth are an unrealized community asset, whose potential for this region is unlimited,” says Pat Fong Kushida, president and CEO of the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce. “This study calls for us to take action now on youth-centered and youth-informed policy solutions to ensure our young people are given more opportunities to succeed. From an economic development standpoint, our region needs this more than ever.”

Vacaville Police Chief Richard Word, who reviewed the report and leads a community-based policing approach that emphasizes crime prevention for young people, emphasized the power of youth to improve their lot.

“I’ve seen the positive outcomes that can be achieved when youth are allowed to lead and are exposed to positive opportunities to express themselves,” Word said. “If we can engage youth, I know we can reduce truancy, improve classroom performance and ultimately improve our labor pool, which will result in less crime and safer communities.”

A key challenge facing the region’s youth is mobility, according to the study.

“Many people live their lives regionally as they seek jobs, education, services and recreation, and change their residence frequently as dictated by family crisis or opportunity,” it notes.

These frequent moves put young people at increased risk of dropping out of school, developing mental or physical health problems, becoming pregnant, engaging in crime, and experiencing unemployment, according to the researchers.

While crediting the Sacramento Area Council of Governments for its work to improve transportation planning in the region, the study also points out transportation challenges. The challenges include inadequate sidewalks and bike lanes.

Some youth interviewed for the study reported problems getting to school or work or accessing such services as counseling, health care, tutoring or babysitters in a safe and timely fashion.

Young people of all socioeconomic backgrounds also reported that expensive, infrequent or nonexistent public transportation can leave them socially isolated.

”Our collective research suggests that the Capital Region contains many of the elements necessary to uproot even the most entrenched problems facing young people today,” the report states. “While these young men and women spoke candidly about their doubts, confusion and fears for the future, they also described their deep desire and efforts — which in some cases are truly heroic — to be part of the solution.”

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The University of California, Davis Center for Regional Change is dedicated to producing “research that matters for the region.” To accomplish this, the CRC builds two kinds of bridges. One set is on campus among faculty and students from different disciplines and departments; the other between the campus and its surrounding home regions. These bridges allow us to bring together faculty, students and communities to collaborate on innovative research to create just, sustainable and healthy regions in California’s Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and beyond. Learn more on the center’s website.

Sierra Health Foundation is a private philanthropy with a mission to invest in and serve as a catalyst for ideas, partnerships and programs that improve health and quality of life in Northern California. The foundation is committed to improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities in the region through convening, educating and strategic grant making. Visit Sierra Health’s website.

The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation, was established in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. From 2010-2020, The Endowment will focus the majority of its resources on its 10-year strategic plan, Building Healthy Communities. For more information, visit The Endowment’s website.

UC Davis students, faculty and staff serve hundreds of young people throughout the greater Sacramento area and beyond each year, helping to prepare them for undergraduate school, graduate programs and professional schools. Here is a partial list of the university’s outreach programs.

Media Resources

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

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University University Environment Society, Arts & Culture Education Human & Animal Health Society, Arts & Culture Society, Arts & Culture Student Life University

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