Before examining the incidence of particular pathways, we can portray the broad thrust of youth endeavors with a summary measure: the fraction of youths who were either enrolled in school or working (Figure 2). School enrollment or the world of work (including the military and looking for work) are the major core activities of youths as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. Youths who are attending school or who are working generally are acquiring market-oriented skills and are considered to be building their “human capital.” Youths not involved in school or the work world are thought to be “at risk.” A prominent federal interagency report asserts that “detachment [from school or work], particularly if it lasts for several years, puts youth at increased risk of having lower earnings and a less stable employment history than their peers who stayed in school, secured jobs, or both. The percentage of youth who are not enrolled in school and not working is one measure of the proportion of young people who are at risk of limiting their future prospects.” (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2009)

A growing fraction of Hispanic 16- to 25-year-olds are either in school or the labor force. In 2007, 86% of Hispanic youths were in school or the labor force, an increase from 77% in 1970. Black and white youths have also become more engaged in formal labor market-oriented endeavors since 1970. Hispanic youths continue to be more detached from skill-building pathways than their white peers. In 2007, 7% of white youths were in neither school nor the labor force, compared with 14% of Hispanic youths.

Hispanic Females Less Engaged in School or Work than Black Males

The labor market difficulties of young black men have been intensively scrutinized for decades (Holzer, 2009). In 2007, 84% of young black males were either enrolled in school or were in the labor force (Figure 3). In other words, 16% of young black men were not engaged in these activities.

Young black men are not, however, the race-gender group with the lowest proportion engaged in either school or the work world. In 2007, only 81% of young Hispanic females were enrolled in school or active in the labor force. That means almost one-in-five Hispanic females were not pursuing labor market-oriented paths. Thus detachment among young Hispanic females was more pronounced than among young black males. Detachment from school and work was particularly pronounced among foreign-born Hispanic females. More than three-in-ten foreign-born Hispanic females were neither in school nor the labor force.

However, the proportion of young Latino females pursuing formal schooling or acquiring skills in the work world has steeply increased since 1970. At that time, only two out of three female Latinos were in school or the labor force, compared with four out of five female Latinos in 2007.

In contrast, for young Latino men and young black men, there has been little change since 1970 in the proportion of the population in school or the labor force. More than 90% of Latino males were in school or the labor force in 2007, a level of engagement greater than black males (84%) but trailing white males (94%).

Schooling and Work among the Lesser-educated Youths

Labor economists have long observed that the employment crisis among young black males is concentrated among less-educated youths (Welch, 1990; Holzer and Offner, 2001; Freeman and Holzer, 1986). Figure 4 shows the proportion of youths either in school or the labor force among youths who have not completed any education beyond high school. Youths lacking any education beyond high school are less likely than other youths to be either in school or the work world. In 2007, for example, 81% of all young Hispanic females were engaged in labor market-oriented activities (Figure 3), but among young Hispanic females with no formal education beyond high school, only 76% were enrolled or in the labor force (Figure 4).

Among youths with no education beyond high school, it remains the case that Hispanic females were less likely than black males to be either in school or working or looking for work—76% compared with 80% in 2007. However, the trend over time for less-educated Hispanic females is different than for less-educated black males. Whereas the employment situation for less-educated black males has deteriorated since 1970, labor market engagement for less-educated Hispanic females has increased over that period.