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At-Risk Youth: WalletHub survey should spur action

Admit it, when you hear the term “at-risk youth,” you don’t think of our own communities. You think of someone else, somewhere else. Even if some are especially enlightened, the reality is most West Virginians do not think of our state as a place where our youth are in trouble.

Sadly, they are wrong.

According to WalletHub’s report “2021’s States with the Most At-Risk Youth,” the Mountain State is the fifth worst in the nation. In setting up the report, the author’s noted there are problems nationwide.

“Without a stable home, positive role models and tools for success, many young Americans fall behind their peers and experience a rocky transition to adulthood. Today, about one in nine individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor attending school. Others suffer from poor health conditions that hinder their ability to develop physically or socially,” the report said.

West Virginia kids face a host of challenges. The state is ranked 10th worst for education and employment opportunities for young people, third worst for kids’ health, tied for second for the highest percentage of disconnected youth and second for the highest youth poverty rate. We know too many of our kids are living in the shadow of the substance abuse epidemic, the hopelessness of an economy that refuses to transition and diversify, and the struggle that comes from growing up in a socio-cultural norm that places more value on the past — “tradition” — than on education and progress.

Lawmakers and bureaucrats spend a lot of time pretending they want to keep our young people here, and to help them prosper. West Virginians don’t need numbers like those in WalletHub’s survey to tell us what we already know. We’re failing our kids. If we do not wake up to that fact, those who are able will one day leave, too. And the downward spiral will continue.

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