The 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report includes an in-depth look at the first steps young people take along their transition away from childhood – emerging adulthood. This is a time of profound growth and development coupled with frequent life changes. The decisions made during these years impacts the next generation of Nebraska’s workforce and families. Our series investigating our commentary thus far has introduced some of the characteristics of emerging adults and provided an overview of this population in Nebraska, and looked at the health, education, economic stability, interactions with the child welfare system, and justice and public safety of these young Nebraskans. Today marks our final post in this commentary series with a look at the transition to adulthood as well as make some recommendations on how our state can best support these young people on their path to full adulthood.
Transitioning to adulthood
Emerging adulthood is an important time for identity exploration and building the foundation for the remainder of adult life, but critics have suggested that this “in-between” stage of possibilities is a privilege only available to some, specifically white, middle class young people. Indeed, little research has been done to examine the role of family income and race/ethnicity on the ability to delay adulthood and participate in a period of extended transition and exploration, and there is no data on whether the period of emerging adulthood applies across race/ethnicity or income.
Despite age, marriage and starting a family are often predictors of transitioning to adulthood. The growing delay in these life changing events in the past half-century has allowed for emerging adulthood to exist, but those who begin their families at a young age often do not get the benefits of a lengthy transition. Over the past decade, births to mothers 18-24-years-old have dramatically reduced; this coupled with similar trends in adolescent births provides evidence of a delay in childbearing and greater ability to experience emerging adulthood.
The transition from emerging adulthood to adulthood is impacted by the young person’s perception, and certain life circumstances can make this transition occur at a younger age. For example, low-income young people typically make the transition at an earlier age. Race and ethnicity is inextricably linked to family income and poverty, therefore it is likely that fewer people of color get the benefit of the extended period of growth that occurs during emerging adulthood. In the prior pages, we have seen disparities in poverty, unemployment, idleness, involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and health care coverage for young people of color. Without equitable access to opportunity, these young people are more likely to transition to adulthood and financial independence before they have had the chance to develop the tools and skills necessary for lifetime success.
Conclusion and recommendations
During the late teens and early twenties, young people experience a period of frequent change. This time is characterized by explorations of relationships, shifting world views and value systems, and career and work possibilities. The lessons learned during these years lead to decisions with lifelong ramifications. This transitional period is an important time to weigh future life courses, while outside and familial responsibilities are relatively low. The developmental milestones reached during these years set young people on the pathway to becoming healthy and productive adults. This time is also a period of vulnerability and risk as young people begin to disconnect from familial supports, experience changes in residence, school, and work, and frequently engage in risky behaviors. Young people’s access to opportunity and a support system, or lack thereof, coupled with how systemic policies impact their lives can lead to significant, lifelong impacts on well-being. In order to ensure all Nebraska’s young people are able to experience this developmental milestone and they all are suited to successfully transition to full adulthood, Voices for Children in Nebraska recommends:
- Preserving features of the ACA relevant to emerging adults. Access to affordable insurance and health care is paramount to a person’s health and wellness. Provisions allowing young people to remain on parental insurance up to age 26 and purchase affordable insurance through the marketplace have significantly reduced uninsurance for emerging adults. Young people have the highest uninsured rates of any age group. Nearly half of uninsured young adults would qualify for Medicaid under full expansion. Expaning Medicaid would address the remaining gap in health insurance access for this population.
- Expanding services to those who age out of the state’s systems to an older age and include the juvenile justice population in these services. The Bridge to Independence Program and the Connected Youth Initiative are important programs ensuring youth who reach the age of majority while living in out-of-home care or having other system involvement have the supports needed to successfully transition to independence. State support should be levied to expand these initiatives to other populations, such as those aging out of placements in our juvenile justice systems. Emerging adulthood is shown to continue for many through the mid-twenties, and these services could also be expanded through the mid-20s.
- Expanding supports in higher education to low-income students and students of color. Today’s workforce requires workers to have more training and education than ever before. The best predictor of financial security is level of education. Postsecondary training and education must be accessible for all that want it and supports need to be in place to ensure young people who experience greater obstacles to educational and economic growth have the tools needed to be successful.
- Eliminating disparities in outcomes for young people of color. Every young person has the right to experience emerging adulthood and successfully transition to adulthood with equitable access to opportunity. Systems must proactively develop prevention and intervention strategies that promote equity while mitigating implicit and explicit racial bias.