Data from past economic downturns show that “recession graduates”—those graduating from high school or college during a recession—may have worse outcomes in earnings and health for years or even decades to come. Young people from families with low incomes and young people of color are shown to be disproportionately affected in terms of lifetime earnings loss and adverse health outcomes. Many economists predict that the “COVID recession” will have even more severe repercussions for recent graduates than past recessions, as so-called youth jobs in the retail, food, and hospitality sectors were in short supply during the pandemic and the shift to virtual learning left many students less prepared for postsecondary education.
MDRC—with initial funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies—sought to work with stakeholders to better understand the challenges recent graduates are facing in the current context and to plan initiatives to help them succeed. In early 2021, MDRC partnered with the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership (RYASAP), an organization that serves young people in the Greater Bridgeport, Connecticut, region. RYASAP worked to bring together key local stakeholders in K-12 education, postsecondary education, and the workforce to identify and address gaps in the support and guidance available to recent high school graduates and to help them move on to further education and employment.
In May 2021, RYASAP started a new career planning program, Park City Career Pathways (PCCP), which aimed to enroll 300 to 400 Bridgeport public high school graduates and nongraduates from the “pandemic-recession classes” of 2020 and 2021.The program offers young people assistance in formulating a career plan, enrolling in postsecondary education, and identifying work-based learning, training, or employment opportunities consistent with their conceived pathway. PCCP staff also conducted a scan of local education and employment resources and connected with local youth councils to supplement their referral and recruitment efforts.
MDRC provided technical assistance to RYASAP, PCCP, and the partner organizations and studied the efforts with the broader goal of identifying solutions to systemic gaps for young people in the transition from high school to postsecondary education and careers. This brief highlights lessons from the implementation of the initiative in Bridgeport that may be useful for other communities that are interested in launching similar initiatives.