High school dropouts tend to make dismal salaries, but their incomes can have a big impact on a family's overall income, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.
Around a third of working teen dropouts come from families that fall below the federal poverty line.
"We usually think about youth employment as positive, but if you're dropping out because there's just not enough, then that's a problem," said Molly Scott, the lead author of the study.
High school dropouts make an average of under $9,500, and contributed 22 percent of their income to their households' annual income. One-tenth contributed more than 50 percent.
Graphic: Urban Institute.
The Urban Institute study analyzed microdata from the American Community Survey, which included 16- to 18-year-olds from across the country who were not enrolled in school and had not graduated.
"We don't know what comes first. If kids drop out to work or drop out after they work," said Scott.
Although the findings did not determine why these teens left school, Scott said that there is precedent and past anecdotal evidence to believe that many may have been motivated by economic realities, particularly among Latino communities.
Graphic: Urban Institute.
Almost three-quarters of young Latino adults discontinued their education during or right after high school so they could support their family, according to a 2009 Pew survey of 16-25 year-olds.
"Just looking at disconnected youth obscures the issues that are facing particular communities, and particularly Latinos in the United States," said Scott.
Young people who leave school and enter the labor force were found to be disproportionately male, older, and Hispanic, than their non-working counterparts.
Despite the findings, Scott pointed out that this is not just an immigrant or Latino trend, citing disparate understandings of employment, as well as potential underreporting of youth employment in communities that receive government subsidies.
"That does not mean that those kids are not contributing one way or another to their families, it just means that it's not going to show up on the Census form," she said.
Working dropouts only account for 30 percent of all dropouts in the U.S. However, Scott said she hopes future education policies will take them into consideration and challenge assumptions.
"We need to be asking questions about some of the basic economics of the households," she said.
Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.