Capitol Alert

‘Youth disconnection’ varies widely in state

Operating oil derricks in the Kern River Oil Field near Bakersfield. Oil was discovered at the Kern River Oil Field in 1899 and has been in production and part of the area's culture in around Bakersfield ever since, but the city has the nation’s second highest rate of “youth disconnection.”
Operating oil derricks in the Kern River Oil Field near Bakersfield. Oil was discovered at the Kern River Oil Field in 1899 and has been in production and part of the area's culture in around Bakersfield ever since, but the city has the nation’s second highest rate of “youth disconnection.” jvillegas@sacbee.com

Within California’s Central Valley farm belt, Bakersfield has stood out for having a relatively vigorous local economy, largely due to its very visible oil industry.

However, a new nationwide study reveals that among the nation’s 98 largest metropolitan areas, Bakersfield has the second highest rate of “youth disconnection.”

The Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, defines that term as the percentage of young adults aged 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working. It found that rates tend to be the highest among black, Latino and Native American youths and much lower among whites and Asian-Americans.

“Disconnected young people tend to come from historically disadvantaged neighborhoods and segregated communities, meaning disconnection is not a spontaneously occurring phenomenon; it is an outcome years in the making,” project co-director Sarah Burd-Sharps said in a statement attached to the report. “We hope that zeroing in on place and race will make previously invisible groups visible and help those working to reconnect young people and prevent future disconnection succeed in their efforts to provide all young people a meaningful shot at their own American Dreams.”

The national rate is 13.8 percent, and Bakersfield, at 21.2 percent, is lower than only Memphis at 21.6 percent. The Omaha-Council Bluffs region of Nebraska and Iowa has the lowest rate, 7.7 percent.

The lowest California metropolitan area rate, ninth lowest in the nation, is the 9.8 percent in the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura area. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area in Silicon Valley is 14th lowest.

However, Bakersfield’s rate of youth disconnection is by no means the highest to be found in California, whose statewide rate, 13.8 percent, mirrors the national picture.

The study also breaks down rates by congressional district and county, and California has rates that are among the highest and the lowest in both subcategories.

Sparsely populated Lassen County in northeastern California, at 48.9 percent, not only has California’s highest county rate of youth disconnection, but the 11th highest rate among all 2,034 U.S. counties.

“Disconnection,” however, may have a special meaning in Lassen, because about a fifth of its population is locked up in two state prisons. And including those inmates in an otherwise small, relatively aged, population may have distorted Lassen’s relative standing, as Burd-Sharps acknowledged in an interview.

Democrat Lois Capps’ 24th Congressional District, centered in Santa Barbara County, has California’s lowest congressional district disconnection rate, just 6 percent, and is 6th lowest in the nation, with Democrat Jackie Speier’s 14th CD on the affluent San Francisco Peninsula the 9th lowest.

Conversely, five of California’s 53 congressional districts are among those with the highest disconnection rates, topped by Republican Paul Cook’s 8th CD in the Southern California desert, fifth highest at 23.3 percent. House majority leader Kevin McCarthy’s 23rd Congressional District, centered in Bakersfield, is 20th highest at 20.9 percent.

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