States With the Most At-Risk Youth in 2021

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Numerous studies have shown that being disadvantaged as a youth correlates strongly with adverse outcomes in adulthood. Disadvantage is manifested in many ways, including low-income households, low-quality schools, low educational attainment, and unstable circumstances. 

Children as a group are disproportionately poor: a higher percentage of children live in poverty than adults, according to the US Census Bureau. And a higher percentage of black children live in poverty than white ones.

To compile a list of the states with the most (and least) at-risk youth, as of July 2021, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data compiled by the credit reporting and advice site WalletHub. The site compared 15 key metrics, variously weighted, to arrive at a risk score for all 50 states (the higher the score, the higher the risk). The metrics included rates of teen pregnancy and youth incarceration, drug use and heavy drinking, obesity, and depression, among other things, with most data applying to an age range of 18 to 24. These are the states where children are struggling with obesity.

To the WalletHub score, we added each state’s percentage of disconnected youth (those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor employed) as determined by the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project and the poverty rate for children under 18 as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey one-year estimates.

Some patterns are clear from the list. Half of the 10 states with the lowest scores are located in the South. These are some of the poorest states in the country, and also the ones where the legacy of segregation is most apparent. By contrast, the states in the North and particularly the Northeast do relatively well. 

Those faring best are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Minnesota. While far from perfect, these are relatively affluent states that place a high value on public education, access to health care, and other public services. Massachusetts, for example, passed a health care reform law in 2006 that resulted in 98% of residents having health insurance. These are the 25 states with the worst health care systems.