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The Present and Future Our Youth Deserves
L.A. County must celebrate and support youth leadership and empowerment now

The Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a full blown crisis for the youth of Los Angeles. In the year since the release of the “No Going Back LA” report, daily life for young Angelenos has been disrupted and put on hold. Young people are facing not only unprecedented stress—bereavement, medical threat, social isolation, and unstable homes—but unparalleled insecurity. With their education interrupted, they are facing knowledge loss with knock-on effects for years to come. The number of students not engaging with coursework on a daily basis including over 40 percent of Black LAUSD middle school students and 38 percent of their Latino counterparts by the end of last year.

Even those who are graduating face worse prospects. It is well-known that graduating or leaving school during an economic downturn negatively impacts earnings for at least ten to fifteen years and leads to lower socioeconomic status, worse health, and higher mortality. 

Even before the pandemic, young Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, and People of Colour (BIPOC) were coming of age in a Los Angeles defined by economic, racial, and social inequality, while simultaneously facing a host of looming structural challenges—costs of higher education, housing affordability, low access to health and mental health services, and poor employment opportunities. The ramifications of COVID-19 have thus only magnified the nefarious effects of racial discrimination and inequity that these communities have faced their whole lives.

The Way Forward

The deep crisis that young Angelenos are facing underscores the need for more youth support, engagement, and empowerment. We must ensure that basic needs are met by shifting resources from punitive juvenile detention to community-based support and working to expand economic opportunities for young people. And mobilizing youth needs to be a central part of empowering communities, developing the economy and social infrastructure, and uniting Los Angeles as one civic community. 

Fortunately, these urgent needs are gaining recognition, with young Angelenos advocating for the changes they want to see. The creation of the City of LA’s Youth Department is a testament to youth organizing efforts. The Los Angeles philanthropic community has given nearly $25 million to organizations tackling youth issues in the past year, a focus that is reflected in local funding, including through LA City’s $33 million Gang Reduction and Youth Development initiative and LA County’s $100 million fund for Measure J—the “care first, jails last” initiative. The state is also pulling its weight, with $554 million dedicated to expanding summer youth employment opportunities. 

Community-based organizations are also working to boost youth civic participation. Bold Vision, for instance, brings together youth, experts, practitioners, and community leaders to identify changes that would improve the lives of LA County’s of colour. Yet more needs to be done: young Angelenos must not only have a say in our shared future—they need to have the opportunity to co-design and co-create the future that belongs to them above all else. The entire Angeleno community must support young Angelenos in their efforts.

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