Socioeconomic Inequalities in the Postseoneary Enrollment, Employment, and Civic Engagement of California Youth

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By Veronica Terriquez and Sandra Florian.  In a best case scenario, young adults who are transitioning out of high school face a choice among various postsecondary education and employment options. At the same time, they may have new opportunities to engage with and be a positive influence on their communities. But today’s youth are coming of age at a time of significant socioeconomic inequality that may shape their ability to access postsecondary education, obtain meaningful employment, and contribute to the world around them. This may in turn shape their current and future outcomes and well-being. In recent decades, parental income has played an increasingly important role in determining children’s educational attainment and other opportunities (Reardon, 2011). Meanwhile, parents with college degrees tend to be better informed about postsecondary educational options and have significantly more experience and resources to help their children attend college, secure good jobs, and participate in civic affairs (Lareau & Weininger, 2008; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady 1995). With these socioeconomic inequalities in mind, we draw on the 2011 California Young Adult Study (CYAS) to outline patterns of postsecondary school enrollment, employment, and civic engagement among California’s 18- to 26-year-olds. Importantly, we show how these patterns vary by the income and education levels in young adults’ families of origin. Together, the findings show the extent to which socioeconomic status continues to shape the work, education, and civic trajectories of a contemporary cohort of California’s young adult population and points to important policy implications to address these inequalities.

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