Our recently published guide on Opportunity Youth explains why we replaced the Disconnected Youth indicator on the MyFutureNC state dashboard with the Opportunity Youth indicator and expanded the ages we were studying for this indicator from 16 to 19-year-olds to 16 to 24-year-olds.
We always try to provide data at both the state and county levels. However, one of the challenges in transitioning to the Opportunity Youth indicator is the lack of data at the county level. The Census Bureau provides an indicator for the number of 16 to 19-year-olds that are neither working nor in school, but no longer provides county-specific data for the 16 to 24-year-old age group.
As researchers, we can calculate this rate directly for the state using the American Community Survey microdata or individual record data. The microdata is aligned with geographic areas called Public Use Microdata Areas or PUMAs. Each PUMA is about 100,000 residents in size and they are redrawn after each decennial census. More populous counties, such as Wake and Mecklenburg, contain multiple PUMAs. Less populous counties are clustered together within a PUMA: Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Pasquotank, and Perquimans all fall within the Northeast Albemarle Sound Region PUMA, for example.
We used the 2015-2019 American Community Survey microdata from IPUMS-USA to calculate county-specific opportunity youth rates. For twenty North Carolina counties, we can calculate these rates directly. For the remaining eighty counties, we estimated the opportunity youth population based on the county population ages 16-24 by race and ethnicity during 2015-2019 and the race-specific rates of youth disconnection for the county or the county’s parent PUMA. (You can read the full methodology here.)
Statewide, shifting from 16-19 to 16-24 increased the opportunity youth rate by 4.7 percentage points over 2015-2019, from 7.1% to 11.8%. Seven counties—Cherokee, Clay, Montgomery, Rutherford, Tyrrell, Yadkin, and Yancey—did not have increases. The largest percentage point increase was in Northampton: an estimated 3.9% of 16-19-year-olds were not working or in school compared to 26.4% of 16-24-year-olds (+22.5 percentage points).
The map "Youth disconnection rates >25% in Northeast NC" shows the percent of county 16-24-year-olds not working and not in school. Statewide, the opportunity youth rate was 11.8% for 2015-2019. Three northeastern counties—Hertford (26.6%), Northampton (26.4%), and Halifax (25.4%)—had the highest opportunity youth rates, with more than one in four 16-24-year-olds not working and not in school. Orange County, home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had the lowest opportunity youth rate (4.2%), less than half the statewide rate. Many western North Carolina counties and counties in the Triangle had opportunity youth rates well below the state average.
The map "Largest number of opportunity youth in Mecklenburg" shows the number of 16-24-year-olds not working and not in school for each North Carolina county. The size of the circles represents the size of the population while the shading on the circles represents the opportunity youth rate for the county. The largest number of opportunity youth are in Mecklenburg (12.5K), followed by Wake (8.8K), Guilford (7K), Cumberland (6.8K), and Forsyth (5.6K). Five counties—Clay, Hyde, Mitchell, Tyrrell, and Yancey—are estimated to have fewer than 100 opportunity youth, partly because of their overall small population size.
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