Forgoing School To Pay The Bills

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Starting a career in a struggling economy is difficult, no matter what your background. But for young people in Langley Park, Md., a predominantly immigrant community near Washington D.C., it is fraught with additional economic and family pressures.

While some of the challenges Langley Park youth face are common to other children growing up in poverty, according to a new study by the Urban Institute, they tend to face an additional, unique barrier: they are four times more likely than other people their age to leave school early to help provide for their families.

Molly Scott, lead author of the Urban Institute study, talked to Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition about her findings.

Interview Highlights:

On why Langley Park youth are so much more likely to work:

If you're an immigrant parent from Central America, you're looking at all the people in your household. The youth are the folks who have often the highest level of education in the family, even if it's only ninth or tenth grade. They're English-proficient and they don't have ambiguous legal status. And, so, if you're trying to figure out how to make ends meet, that seems like a really rational choice.

On what causes kids from immigrant families to fall behind:

You know, kids start school behind in preschool because of language issues and other things, but they do remarkably well in elementary school. They're on par with their peers. And that's really a testament to the great way that these families wrap around these kids and support them when they're little, right? But the problem is that there's such a steep drop off when you get to middle school, and then high school they face these pressures — I think there are just a lot of really strong economic realities.

On how to prevent youths in immigrant families from falling behind:

In the policy world we're talking a lot about whole family approaches. You know, in this case, that's a very appropriate way to think about this problem — that it's not just the kid in isolation but, you know, the family, and having sort of resource-sufficiency. And so, interventions with the parents themselves for education and training as well as figuring out how you help families meet some of those basic needs could be really helpful.

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