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New report calls for youth-centric approaches to policy

August 25, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
Once upon a time financially stable parents eagerly provided for their young offspring until they were able to strike out on their own and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, this is only a fairy tale completely untethered from reality but one that far too many policy makers still believe exists concluded a new report from Community Legal ServicesYouth Action Board (YAB).  As a result, policies are being created based on this mythical family which make young adults’ reality harder.

While this isn’t a new problem, it was exacerbated by the pandemic. Generocity has been provided an advance look at a new report which is critical of COVID response and recovery programming for ignoring the unique needs of young adults:

“Youth are at an increased risk for unemployment during the pandemic, which has had disastrous impacts on our security. The impact of this cycle, unemployment to housing insecurity, housing insecurity to prolonged unemployment, has left youth in a constant state of survival and created a new pandemic, widespread negative mental health outcomes.”

The Youth Action Board is a youth-led board that works to improve the civil legal experiences and outcomes for youth.  All three cowriters argue that youth need to be involved in policy-making that centers youth’s physical safety, emotional well-being and economic stability. “Our realities make us experts,” the report states.

The authors — Deja Morgan, Madison Nardy and Alexi Chacon — all have loving families but their families are unable to financially support them. When work disappeared, it forced them to navigate a governmental safety net system for relief as they faced unemployment, eviction, hunger, student debt and mental illness.  They wrote:

“There is an assumption that because we are young, somehow we will have a safety net to catch us if we fall, whether that’s with family, school, or having the ‘energy’ as a young person to persevere and figure it out.  But the painful reality is that many aspects of young people’s lives that are not taken into consideration, and many young people are navigating the transition without a safety net.”

According to the report, which is titled How the Pandemic Response Has Failed Young People and What We Need to Thrive, half of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage workers are between 16 and 24 years old, an age group hard hit by the pandemic. When the call to shut the economy came March 2020, the hardest hit sectors were restaurants, hospitality, childcare services, retail and transportation. These are the sectors that have some of the highest percentages of young people, almost one of every four workers,

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Nine out of every ten unemployed young people lacked access to any income during the pandemic and the youth unemployment rate remains higher than the national rate. “As stimulus packages, assistance programs, moratoriums, and other pandemic-relief efforts rolled out, the unique needs of young adults continued to go unmet,” states the report.

It is from their authentic experiences that the trio asserted in the report that “the unfortunate truth is youth are forgotten in institutional and policy settings.”

Using their personal experiences for background, the three reported on issues such as unemployment, housing insecurity and mental health services.

Madison Nardy (Courtesy photo).

YAB member and report coauthor Nardy’s life was full before the shutdown. She was student at Community College of Philadelphia, thinking about a career in theater, caring for her mother, and working at Target — a job with unpredictable hours, that often required her to both close at 11 p.m. and to return to reopen at 6 a.m.  For people without a car, like Nardy, the Uber and Lyft fees added up and took a toil on her $13 hour salary. Still she was holding her own and excelling as a student.

Then the pandemic hit, and the economy shut down.  She lost her job, school went virtual, and getting the unemployment resources she needed proved a brutal experience.

Nardy is studying to become a labor organizer and ultimately thinking of running for City Council. One issue she is advocating is that government bureaucracies better understand the vital documentation issues of youth which can lock them out of aid programs.  “Young people understand young people’s issues,” Nardy said, adding, “I really would love to see policy makers read the report and become more accepting of young people.”

Like many young adults, Morgan, was lured to Philadelphia from Texas to attend college. She never envisioned she would suffer a year dealing with housing insecurity and eviction. A situation made more problematic because she suffers from Type I diabetes and needs access to a kitchen to prepare heathy meals.

Deja Morgan. (Courtesy photo)

“A critical pitfall is that young people have been left out of the conversations,” Morgan said.

Morgan said her story started last summer during the pandemic when she had to move to get away from a racist roommate. “I was thrust into a situation of finding housing when I didn’t have a job. I was literally surviving off my income taxes and stimulus check.”

She found a better housing situation but because of a roach infestation and a landlord unwilling to pay for extermination, and she opted to end the lease early.

Like many housing insecure young people, couch hopping became her way of life. “It took a toll on me,” Morgan recalled. “For a whole year I felt like my life was on pause. I was in survival mode. I needed a roof over my head. “

The report argues that housing assistance programs need to do more to target young people with housing issues. The reports also blasted the state for failing to distribute $96 million of the $150 million in federal COVID relief funds and for using the money to fill gaps in the state’s budget.

According to the Philadelphia Renters Report about half of Philadelphia renters pay more than 30% of their income towards rent.

For Black and Latinx renters, the problem of housing insecurity is even more pervasive.  The report states:

“It is unrealistic to think that anyone, but especially young people, can access housing when the basis for accessing it means providing proof of income that is three times the rent and being able to pay first, last, and security.”

Instead of youth-centric policies, young adults face landlords who are reluctant to rent because they have lower incomes, a record with an eviction, or low credit scores.

“No one should assume that we all have a nuclear family and the resources and support. Sometimes youths graduate (from high school) and they are figuring things out for themselves,” Morgan said.

Morgan credits Community Legal Services as the organization that helped her to connect to resources and go from surviving to thriving, but she added that more young people need to be in the room where decisions are made about the issues that are going to impact their lives.

Alexi Chacon. (Courtesy photo)

Chacon’s own experiences left him convinced that “youth-centric policy is critical and that it can’t be one size fits all.”

Chacon left Los Angeles to attend school at the University of Pennsylvania. While he was a scholarship student, there were still gaps in his financial aid package that left a need — like eating during breaks when all the dining halls where shut down.

He finished undergrad, went on to Oxford for grad school but his academic accolades left him severely debt burdened and anxious. According to the CDC  over 60% of young adults have reported experiencing depression, anxiety or both since the start of the pandemic.

“At the time, I found myself uninsured during a pandemic and without the financial means to access resources/treatment out of pocket,” Chacon said. “Crisis hotlines were somewhat alleviating my debilitating panic attacks but were not addressing root causes or long-term solutions.”

The report offers this as a solution:

“Future policy should focus on increasing access to Medicaid and ensuring that mental healthcare providers already serving vulnerable communities are able to participate in Medicaid and offer coverage to those they serve. The two must go hand in hand, so that providers have the resources to treat vulnerable communities and members of those communities have the coverage to access treatment.”

COVID also impacted current college students who weren’t eligible for the $1200 stimulus check if their parents claimed them as dependents.

When colleges went virtual, some students struggled with accessing the digital resources necessary to participate in online instruction, struggled to secure off campus housing, and struggled to stay motivated.

They dropped out at higher rates than usual as the pandemic deepened and others didn’t even bother to apply.

“Everyone should have a fair shot at life and reward for their achievement,” Chacon added.

Read the full report


Generocity will publish individual columns by Nardy, Morgan and Chacon on different topics covered by the report tomorrow though Monday, August 30, 2021. On Tuesday, August 31, we will publish a concluding column co-written by all three.

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