SAN ANTONIO – Many of us have felt the effects of the pandemic in different ways and a recent UTSA report sheds light on how local teens and young adults could be affected in the future.
The study focused on Bexar County’s “opportunity youth” -- 16 to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school or do not have a job, and the number of people in this group in the San Antonio area is growing by the day.
Dr. Roger Enriquez, Asst. Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UTSA, and other researchers found this was a vital time in someone’s life and once they get off track either by dropping out or not working, getting them back on track is very difficult.
“What we don’t want is to have these individuals being underemployed because that has long term consequences for the economic well being of all citizens in the city of San Antonio,” said Enriquez. “If we’re able to provide them workforce development, help them find jobs that can provide for families, we will have done a tremendous service to the community.”
According to the report, an estimated 12.5% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the United States are either not in school or jobless.
But in the San Antonio area, there are nine local zip codes where the percentage is more than 15%. Those zip codes are:
- 78203, 78219, and 78220 on the East Side
- 78101 and 78263 on the Southeast Side
- 78073 and 78252 on the Southwest Side
- 78221 and 78235 on the South Side
Enriquez believes those percentages are only expected to increase when more data comes in.
“Early reports indicate that those numbers could be as high as 20 and 25 percent,” Enriquez said.
Prior to the pandemic, many of these portions of San Antonio already had issues with the digital divide and connectivity, making it harder to join the workforce. Enriquez said as many as 25% of students in districts in those areas have fallen off the grid altogether.
“There are no opportunities in the areas in which they live, there’s lack of transportation,” said Enriquez. “In some instances, these students are also limited English proficient. So there’s a number of different challenges that sort of coalesced to create this sort of perfect storm.”
Enriquez added that “opportunity youth” are far more likely to be involved in chronic criminal activities, live in poverty or have physical and mental health problems later in life, as well as an increased likelihood of dying early.
He believes now is the time to keep these students in school or create job opportunities before it’s too late.
“If we allow our human resources to not invest in human resources, we’re doing a tremendous disservice to the future of San Antonio because you can not have a lost generation and enjoy prosperity,” Enriquez said.
You can view the full report from UTSA and the City of San Antonio below.