New Orleans’ youth are some of the most at-risk and underserved in the nation. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2011 Kids Count report, 34 percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty, compared to the national average of 20 percent. The Cowen Institute at Tulane University reports that 15 percent of teenagers in Orleans parish between the ages of 16-19 are not in school and are not working. Youth in New Orleans are two times more likely to live in poverty and drop out of school without a high school diploma than youth elsewhere in Louisiana and four times more likely than youth living in other parts of the United States. This education failure is reflected city-wide, as more than half of New Orleans’ schools have 85 percent of their students reading below grade level. According to the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), nearly 40,000 adults in Orleans parish do not have a high school diploma.
According to a report put out of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in March 2011, over 50 percent of convicted murderers in New Orleans were 23 years or younger and a majority (56 percent) were noted as having no gainful employment. The same report indicated that 92 percent of homicide victims and 99 percent of perpetrators were black. Further, Louisiana’s teen-death rate has risen by 11 percent since 2000 and nearly half (46 percent) of teen homicide victims in Louisiana reside in New Orleans.
Four of YEP’s community-based sites are located in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, which is one of the most violent and poorest areas in the city. Fewer than 20 percent of Central City youth live with both parents; 25 percent of children live with a caretaker other than a parent; and the homicide rate in Central City is four times greater than the city average (the city’s murder rate was ten times the national average in 2012). The 2010 Census indicated that 49.8 percent of Central City residents lived in poverty, compared to 27.9 percent of residents in New Orleans and 12.4 percent nationally. Seventy-nine percent of residents living in Central City report being afraid of crime in their community; and according to a 2007 study by the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, residents of the neighborhood cite murder, the drug trade, and a lack of productive youth activities as the greatest stressors they face. Additionally, Walter L. Cohen High School, the only Central City high school, had a dismal 17.9 percent graduation rate in 2009 and employment and income statistics reflect this educational failure. Fifty-three percent of Central City adults were unemployed in 2009 and the neighborhood has a median household income of $18,114.