The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was awarded $665,000 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) to support the “Our State, Our Work” program, aimed at connecting young adults with good paying employment opportunities. Program participants include 13 community teams from 37 counties across North Carolina. These counties are home to nearly 40 percent of the state’s opportunity youth, young adults aged 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school and are not working full- or part-time. Opportunity youth are the focus of the “Our State, Our Work” initiative. 

The Economic Policy Institute reports that younger workers tend to be employed in jobs and sectors that COVID-19 has especially hit hard. The pandemic led to a spike in unemployment for opportunity youth, jumping to 24.4 percent in spring 2020.  Abrupt educational shifts during the pandemic became another roadblock for students in this population who lacked the technology or emotional support necessary to make the transition to online learning.

“All young people in North Carolina deserve the opportunity to thrive,” said Fran Gary, Senior Vice President of Government Markets at Blue Cross NC. “Through the ‘Our State, Our Work’ program, Opportunity Youth will be connected with the systems, tools, and resources necessary for navigating this important time in their lives. They will live healthier lives as a result.”

The life experiences of youth have a significant impact on the economy and on the wellbeing of communities. Recent research indicates pronounced differences on community outcomes such as employment, income, homeownership, and health when comparing young adults who have become disconnected from school or work versus those who have remained consistently connected.

“Our State, Our Work” teams convened at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government in September 2022 to begin this 18-month program, the first of a series being offered through Carolina Across 100, a five-year initiative charged by UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and led by Anita Brown-Graham's ncIMPACT Initiative in the School of Government. The ncIMPACT Initiative at the School of Government has statewide reach and expertise in leading cross-sector collaboration to help communities solve complex problems.

Community teams involved with "Our State, Our Work” will focus on cross-sector collaboration to advance work already being done in communities to help young adults reconnect with education and job opportunities. UNC-Chapel Hill will provide additional resources and support to these communities by connecting teams with campus and community partners.

"At the School of Government and all across the University, we see opportunities to lead and, more importantly, to partner in public service,” said School of Government Dean Mike Smith. “We are proud to work with Blue Cross NC to build and strengthen pathways to success for young people across our state.”