Coordinated Systems Key to Employment for Youth Formerly in State Care

Preparing youth for employment is a major goal of federal policies to help youth in foster care successfully transition into adulthood. Employment is one of the activities young people can engage in to maintain eligibility for federally funded foster care beyond their 18th birthday. This analysis of data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) suggests that far too many young people who age out of foster care are not employed as young adults, and some of those who are employed do not earn enough to lift them out of poverty.

What we did

The Midwest Study followed more than 700 young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. Participants were surveyed at age 17 or 18, 19, 21, 23 or 24, and 26 about a range of experiences including education, employment, housing, justice system involvement and physical and mental health.

We analyzed the employment outcomes Midwest Study participants over time and examined the characteristics associated with employment and wages.

What we found

Looking at employment outcomes over time, we find that:

  • Employment rates increased from age 17 or 18 to age 21 for both men and women but did not change much from age 21 to age 23 or 24.
  • Wages, hours, and job tenure increased among those who were employed.

Looking at employment outcomes at age 24 we find that:

  • Only half of young people formerly in foster care were employed; another 30% were looking for employment.
  • 22% of those who were employed would be categorized as poor after adjusting for family size and partners’ income.
  • 16% of the young men were excluded from the labor market because they were incarcerated.

We identified several factors related to the likelihood of being employed:

  • Black youth were about half as likely to be employed as white youth, but there were no racial differences in the wages of youth who were employed.
  • Young people with a high school diploma or GED were twice as likely to be employed, and those with at least some college were over three times more likely to be employed than those who had not completed high school.
  • Parenthood increased the likelihood of being employed for men, but decreased the likelihood of being employed for women.

What it means

These results highlight the economic vulnerability of young people formerly in foster care. They also point to opportunities for effective intervention, including the need to address barriers to educational attainment faced by those exiting foster care. The more education young people have, the more likely they are to have a job and the more they earn when they work.

There is also a need for more collaboration between the child welfare system and other institutions that serve young adults. These include the criminal justice system, programs supported through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and programs that can help low-income parents balance the competing demands of work and parenting.

Recommended Citation
Hook, J. L. & Courtney, M. E. (2010). Employment of Former Foster Youth as Young Adults: Evidence from the Midwest Study. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Download Report