The number of people ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working is on the rise, with 850,000 in California alone, according to a report released Monday.

Nationwide, there are 6.5 million so-called "disconnected youth," representing the lowest employment rate since World War II, according to KIDSCOUNT, a report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children Now.

"We're talking about ... first employment opportunities that give students a chance to develop some of those really basic skills like how to dress at work," said Jessica Mindnich, director of research for Oakland-based Children Now. "The fact that we have a whole generation of kids that aren't having these experiences is really problematic not only for the state, but also for these children and their futures."

Since 2000, the number of school-aged youth in California who are neither working nor taking classes has grown by 200,000, or 35 percent, slightly higher than the national average.

California tied with Florida for the lowest employment rate among youths ages 16 to 19 at just 18 percent, with North Dakota the highest at 45 percent.

In many parts of California, it's a challenge to keep kids in school, said Fred McCasland, area director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley.

"We've seen a lot of teens dropping out of school, and once they come of age, not finding a job," he said. "By not finishing school, it minimizes their potential to find employment."

The report describes barriers youths face in becoming financially stable and recommends supports that could help them become engaged and connected in their communities.

To get young people back on track, the report encourages businesses, government, nonprofit organizations and schools to collaborate on projects that provide the education and training youths will need to succeed in the changing economy.

Although youth advocates say more work needs to be done, they point to several programs that are working in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.

Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord has a health science academy that places students in internships at John Muir Medical Center, a Careers in Education academy that offers students the chance to volunteer as teachers' assistants in elementary school classrooms, and an emerging digital media pathways program, said Principal Sue Brothers.

The school plans to offer new science, technology, engineering and math programs connected to training that will prepare students to work in skilled trades as plumbers, construction workers and electricians, in conjunction with local community college programs, Brothers said.

"Diablo Valley and Los Medanos community colleges have programs that lead to living-wage jobs that don't require a four-year degree, but do require a strong education," she said. "Our goal is to really be sure that what we're doing is relevant to local industry."

Some young people didn't have teachers or family members who encouraged them to further their education after they graduated from high school, and now they're stuck, said Nicholas Ross, senior class president at Fremont High School in East Oakland. He said there need to be more people from the community -- business owners, leaders, ordinary residents -- involved in the schools.

"If we have people come and show that it is possible for you to be successful," he said, "that gets kids more engaged in what people are saying."

Staff writers Katy Murphy and Sharon Noguchi contributed to this report.

Youth and work:
Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity
See the full report at www.aecf.org/kidscount/youthwork.
For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.