It is a common understanding that youth need to gain additional skills through educational, training, and work experiences. Yet, many of America’s youth are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. These youth are neither investing in their human capital or earning income. Their disconnection represents a significant loss of economic opportunity for our society. These young adults are known as ‘opportunity youth’. For the 16-24 age group, it is estimated that at least 6.7 million (17%) fall into this category. Some reports estimate that an individual opportunity youth imposes, on average and contrasted to other youth, a total taxpayer burden of $258,240 and a total social burden of $755,900. Yet, the economic potential of an opportunity youth cohort can be substantial. Considered over the lifetime of a cohort of 6.7 million opportunity youth who are aged 16-24, the aggregate taxpayer burden amounts to $1.56 trillion. The aggregate social burden is $4.75 trillion. In order to draw on the potential of opportunity youth, it will be necessary to make strategic and targeted investments. With such investments, their economic value is likely to be substantial.
The Meraki Program is a career readiness and entrepreneurial program that looks to invest in these youth. The word “Meraki” (mer-ah’-key) is a Greek word meaning “to put soul, creativity, and part of yourself into your work.” Our message to our students is that work is not only a means to provide for yourself, it is also part of who you are created to be. Each student has been gifted with unique talents and abilities; those gifts can be used to make their community a better place and to help them feel more fulfilled in life. We encourage each student to discover their strengths and passions and pursue a career where they can use those to contribute to their communities.