About 1 in 6 young adults in Louisiana, ages 16 to 24, are neither in school nor employed.1 This population, known as Opportunity Youth, are more likely to live in poverty than their peers and often lack the education, experiences, or resources needed to find stable, sustainable employment. Some of these young people face challenges such as housing insecurity or addiction or care for children of their own. 

The challenges that Opportunity Youth face are not unique. They are shared by low and moderate income people and families of all ages in Louisiana. But these young people do require more targeted assistance than older people in comparable situations, both because they are often a part of families struggling to make ends meet and because not all public assistance programs were designed with young adults in mind: 

“Young people struggle very differently than in the past,” one state welfare administrator told LBP. “If you get a job, you’re getting a job for your whole family. Frequently, we’re asking young people to do things that frighten their families. They may come from households that need them to work, to provide. And even if they don’t, disparities between young people are amplified – especially because young people need support for much longer than they used to.” 

Put another way – for many low-income families, there are already deep disconnections from institutions that higher-income families take for granted as a standard part of growing up. For example, higher education, and the debt often required to finance it, can look and feel like a daunting sacrifice for people coming from families living paycheck to paycheck. 

Despite numerous federal, state, and local programs existing to serve low-income people, including Opportunity Youth, too many young Louisianans fall through the gaps in the social safety net and are hampered by needs that those programs don’t meet. Complex administrative requirements, rigid eligibility tests, and inadequate funding limit the effectiveness of many public benefit programs that could serve these youth. Even when Opportunity Youth successfully receive benefits, significant needs outside the scope of existing programs present serious obstacles to their sustainable economic stability and independence. 

This report identifies many of the programs and funds that may be used for and by Opportunity Youth in Louisiana, and provides detailed analysis of how a few specific programs funded by the federal government but administered by state government—Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment & Training (SNAP E&T)—can be better leveraged on behalf of Opportunity Youth.