Recent data offer some encouraging news regarding youth engagement in North Carolina: after a brief pandemic-driven spike in 2020, statewide youth disconnection fell back to pre-pandemic lows in 2022.
Opportunity youth (or “disconnected youth”) are teens and young adults ages 16 to 24 who are neither employed nor enrolled in school. Based on American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2022, there were 141,800 opportunity youth in North Carolina, equaling 10.9% of the total 16-24 population (see Figure 1).
These latest figures show a decrease from 2021 when there were 155,000 opportunity youth, approximately 12.1% of the youth population.
Based on our calculations, the over-the-year decline in youth disconnection appears broad-based across demographics. Youth disconnection declined for both the 16-19 and 20-24 age groups but remained higher among the older cohort (see interactive figure).
Both male and female youth saw reductions in disengagement rates from 2021 to 2022. Similarly, disconnection rates fell across racial groups.
The interactive figure below allows users to explore opportunity youth trends across different demographic groups. However, given the smaller sample sizes for some population groups in the ACS, users should exercise caution when interpreting trends and year-to-year fluctuations.
The rapid decline in youth disconnection over the past three years highlights the exceptional strength and speed of the post-recession economic recovery. Young workers have benefitted from historically low unemployment rates and record wage growth, driven by tight labor market conditions. The interactive figure also allows users to view youth employment trends in aggregate and by industry over time.
 This article incorporates 2022 ACS 1-Year Public Use Microdata (PUMS) files released on October 19, 2023.
 We considered over-the-year changes for youth identifying as White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI). However, given the smaller sample sizes for some racial/ethnic groups, these findings should be interpreted with caution.