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Expand Effective Comprehensive Programs

Bring what works to everyone who needs it.

The comprehensive programs that are already succeeding with opportunity youth should be expanded. These are typically full-time programs that include education, job training, counseling, personal supports and mentors, leadership development opportunities, a positive peer group, pathways to college and jobs, and service opportunities in which young people can learn that it is possible to get paid for doing something good.

Every urban and rural low-income community should have an array of these programs that should be well publicized so that young people can find them and can see alternatives to the street life that is so pervasive. Most of us have experienced AmeriCorps, Back on Track Schools, Public Allies, Service and Conservation Corps, or YouthBuild programs. Through these publicly funded programs we found inspiring pathways to responsible adulthood. These and other effective federal, state and local programs should be expanded to the limits of their capacity.

Based on a study done by Civic Enterprises, we have learned that an annual federal investment of $6.4 billion a year in proven existing federal programs would reconnect one million young adults per year.1 Each 20-year-old permanently reconnected to education and/or employment will directly save the taxpayer $236,000 and will save a total social cost of $704,000 over his or her lifetime.2 Thus, if these programs succeed with just half of their participants, the lifetime direct return on investment to the taxpayer would be over $118 billion for each year of investment. The social benefit would be $350 billion.

The measurable benefits to society of investing in opportunity youth are enormous. Beyond those, the powerful ripple effects of our becoming responsible role models, family members, and community leaders can never be fully measured. Increasing investment in proven program models is the first obvious step.