Why should you invest in youth?

Published on December 18, 2017 | Written by

Governor Deval Patrick tells a story of how life can change in a generation.  He lived in Chicago with his mother and sister.  They had a bunk bed, so every night one of them would have the top bunk, another the bottom bunk and the other slept on the floor.  He received a scholarship to Milton Academy in Massachusetts, which led him to college at Harvard, Harvard Law School and ultimately to the Massachusetts State House.  In contrast, his story goes, his daughter came home from school one day upset about an assignment drawing the four seasons.  Her problem was that she didn’t know which of the Four Season hotels she had stayed in she should draw.  In one generation, his family had gone from trading nights sleeping on the floor to sleeping in one of the premier hotels in the world.

While not every investment in a young person will lead to a governorship, or even luxury living, it does show when someone is given the chance to live up to their potential, great things can happen.  But a world where the Deval Patricks are not given opportunities shortchanges them and all of us. 

In these times, with many demands on every dollar, whether for government dollars or philanthropic ones, it is important to show the return on investments.  In fact, the dividends paid by investing in high-risk youth shows an overwhelming return:

The ROI in Minnesota is a $2.72 dividend per dollar spent on quality youth programs, says Wilder Research. For high-risk youth, the return is even higher: $4.89 per dollar spent in quality early intervention programs.

On the other hand, the cost of not investing is greater.  Not only for the individual, but also for the whole economy.  Instead of developing their talents and skills to productively benefit the economy, those abilities lay dormant and underutilized.  This represents an economic cost in lost potential. 

When we allow young people to fall through the cracks and do not provide them the resources they need to graduate from high school or develop marketable skills, they begin their adulthood behind and very few are able to catch up. 

Furthermore, A high school dropout costs our country between $243,000 and $388,000. The lifetime economic costs of young people who drop out of high school and are unemployed is $1.6 trillion to the taxpayer and $4.7 trillion to society.

Ultimately the question comes down to where should the dollars on youth be spent.  Obviously, youth investment shows positive returns, but because it takes a while to realize the return, in an immediate satisfaction world, patience is a hard commodity to find.  Yet there is a youth program where individual cost does not seem to matter. 

The state of Minnesota pays $104,839 a year (or $287.23 a day) for each incarcerated young person, reports the Justice Policy Institute. The saved social cost is $75,300 for each Minnesota young person who avoids one year of residential treatment in a juvenile correctional facility.

The question is not, “Should we invest in youth?”  It is, “Can we afford not to?”

Categorized in: