Study Reveals Which States Have Most At-Risk Youth

Most schools and communities have programs aimed at supporting at-risk youth—described as kids who struggle with a variety of issues such as drugs, mental illness, poverty, and even homelessness. Many of these kids are disconnected, drop out of school, or have health issues like obesity.

Experiences in childhood and adolescence typically set the trajectory for the rest of an individual’s life, so support for these kids is crucial. And in some instances, at-risk kids can have a negative impact on other students, making it more difficult for them to learn and achieve their own academic potential. So it may be helpful for parents to learn whether their community could have a concerning number of at-risk youth. Financial group WalletHub analyzed “key indicators of risk” in American youth to identify states with the most at-risk youth.

The Research

Researchers studied data from several sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Conference of State Legislatures, and graded youth (aged 18–24 in most categories) in the 50 states and District of Columbia. They reviewed each state’s share of 14 criteria. We’ve listed the main criteria from the report and the states with the most and least at-risk youth, respectively, for each area analyzed.

Highest Percentage of Disconnected Youth
(Youth not attending school, working, or possessing beyond a high-school diploma)

Alaska, Louisiana,West Virginia, New Mexico, and Arkansas

Lowest Percentage of Disconnected Youth
(Youth not attending school, working, or possessing beyond a high-school diploma)

Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Iowa


Highest Percentage of Youth Without A High-School Diploma

Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arizona, and Georgia

Lowest Percentage of Youth Without A High-School Diploma

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, District of Columbia, Vermont, North Dakota, and Hawaii


Highest Percentage of Overweight and Obese Youth

Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, and West Virginia

Lowest Percentage of Overweight and Obese Youth

New York, Oregon, Connecticut, Arizona, District of Columbia


Highest Percentage of Youth Reporting Drug Use

Vermont, District of Columbia, Colorado, Rhode Island, Oregon

Lowest Percentage of Youth Reporting Drug Use

Alabama, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Utah


Lowest Youth Participation in Labor Force

Mississippi, New York, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Connecticut

Highest Youth Participation in Labor Force

Nebraska, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Iowa


Highest Youth Poverty Rate

District of Columbia, Mississippi, Montana, West Virginia, and Arkansas

Lowest Youth Poverty Rate

Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Alaska


Highest Percentage of Homeless Youth

Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, and District of Columbia

Lowest Percentage of Homeless Youth

Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas, and Mississippi

States with Most and Least At-Risk Youth Overall

Unquestionably, there is extreme variation across the country when it comes to unique challenges. Many states excel in some areas and score low in other areas, and vice versa. For example, the District of Columbia has a high percentage of youth drug users, but also a high percentage of youth with high school diplomas and is among the states with the lowest percentage of overweight and obese youth. Keeping that fact in mind, here are the 10 states with the highest and lowest percentage of at-risk youth overall according to the WalletHub study:

States with Most At-Risk Youth

District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, West Virginia, Arkansas, Delaware, Oregon, Alabama, and New Mexico

States with Least At-Risk Youth

New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland, Connecticut, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Utah, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas

It’s not accurate (or fair) to proclaim any one state or region of the country inferior across the board. The value of this study, and others like it, is to shine a spotlight on the categories where states are excelling, and the categories where states likely need additional resources to support young people.

The same holds true for parents. If you live in a state lagging behind in certain areas, you can use this knowledge to best support your kids and keep tabs to make sure they become part of the solution, not a statistic of what’s broken.

If you live in a state that has a higher number of at-risk youth, you may want to evaluate your child’s current school and consider all your options, including learning at home. K12-powered online public and private schools allow students to learn from the safety of home where they receive a high-quality, personalized education experience online. Visit to learn more or find a school in your area.

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