[Editor's Note: this article originally appear in Career Convergence in 2019. It is included here now due to its significance to the work of career professionals with youth and the changes in today's work world.]
There is a need to understand the barriers to career development faced by youth in low-income communities. In understanding the many issues that present for the given population, career professionals can begin to build strategies to improve the mindset of the youth. By incorporating developmental-based concepts of Donald Super, career professionals will be able to decrease barriers and work to increase aspirations in the youth of today to ensure better career development opportunities for future generations through devotion and consistency.
Issues in Low-Income Communities Impacting Career Development
Poverty is a significant barrier to the career development of youth in low-income communities. This population makes up 33% of all people in poverty (Hodgkinson, Godoy, Beers, & Lewin, 2017). Poverty has been linked to poor physical and mental health in youth and adults in low-income communities (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). According to Deforge (2015), youth in low-income families may experience poor nutrition, lack of healthcare (physical & mental), and high levels of mobility due to the lack of funds. Besides, youth in low-income communities tend to engage in risky behaviors (substance use, sexual activity, violent behavior) due to the lack of funding to engage in positive activities (Jordan, Mireles, & Popkin, 2013). The lack of funding in low-income communities contributes significantly to a lack of resources to aid in advancing career development in the youth in these areas.
Low Educational Attainment
Low educational attainment also presents as a career development issue for this population. Youth in low-income communities experience chronic absenteeism and low attendance rates, along with low engagement in school (Jordan et al., 2013). In low-income neighborhoods, there is one book per 300 children, which leads to limited exposure to educational resources/materials (Carter, 2013). Also, youth in low-income families may have a limited vocabulary, which makes it difficult to read (Deforge, 2015). Some in low-income communities may experience more educational issues due to a lack of fluency in English (Deforge, 2015). Education is of great importance to career development and planning for youth. It serves as a foundation and cornerstone for future career development and exploration. As such, the low educational attainment of youth from low-income communities limits their overall career development.
Limited Awareness of Career Options
Youth in these communities have limited awareness of available career options, which proves to be an additional barrier to appropriate career development. There is a lack of outside enrichment; due to the lack of resources, there are not many resources present for youth to see different career options and opportunities (Deforge, 2015).
Lack of Employment Opportunities
There is a strong connection between affordable housing and job opportunities (Cove, Turner, Briggs, & Duarte, 2008). Low-income communities tend to lack jobs (Simms, 2015). Overall, jobs that are easily accessible to youth in low-income neighborhoods tend to offer inadequate wages and little chance for advancement (Clark, et. al, 1995).
Super’s Theoretical Perspective
Educational commitment to career choices is generally made during one’s youth (Sharf, 2013). According to Super (1955), during the adolescence/youth stage of life, career maturity, a sense of capacities, and a system of values are developed. Adolescents are more likely to accurately assess their own abilities two years prior (Super, 1955). During adolescence/youth can take their goals and values into consideration when making career choices (Super, 1955).
Super (1955) views career development through stages and tasks. The Super stages that relate specifically to youth include the growth and exploration stages (Sharf, 2013). In the Growth stage, youth begin to form an idea of areas of strengths, interests, values, abilities, talents, and personality traits (Sharf, 2013). This is the time where youth are identifying areas in which they excel and areas that may not be a good fit for them based on their self-concept and how they perceive themselves. During the Exploration stage, youth begin to make career decisions based on the strengths, interests, values, abilities, talents, and personality traits identified in the Growth stage. This is the time when youth are becoming clearer on their career options, specifying a career plan, and implementing a career decision (Sharf, 2013). Utilizing Super's model in the process of career counseling intervention will allow counselors to pay particular attention to relevant developmental stages and tasks; hence, consideration of developmentally appropriate interventions become the next logical step. This can be of added benefit to youth, particularly those from low-income communities.
Developmentally-based Innovative Strategies
According to Super (1955), youth’s career development involves a process that requires specialized knowledge and attention. When working with youth in low-income communities, it is, therefore, important to be creative while utilizing developmentally-based strategies due to the factors that negatively impact career development, such as poverty, lack of educational attainment, and lack of resources. Being aware of and utilizing Super’s model and concepts can enhance career development strategies tailored to youth in low-income communities. Based on the concepts associated with Super’s model, the following strategies have been identified for youth in low-income communities:
A Better Future
Many youths from low-income communities lack aspiration due to factors outside of their control, such as poverty, low educational attainment, limited awareness of career options, and lack of employment options. While counselors/career service providers have limited ability to change the environment these students find themselves in, utilizing strategies that capitalize on their specific stage of development can help set the stage for a better future. When counselors use developmentally-focused strategies, they help create positive career development for youth, especially those in low-income communities.
Carter, C. J., (2013). Why aren’t low income students succeeding in school? Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-arent-low-income-stud_b_2909180
Clark, P., Dawson, S. L., Kays, A. J., Molina, F., & Surpin, R. (1995). Jobs and the urban poor: Privately initiated sectoral strategies. Retrieved from https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/pubs/JobsUrbanPoor.pdf
Cove, E., Turner, M. A., de Souza Briggs, X., & Duarte, C. (2008). Can escaping from poor neighborhoods increasing employment and earnings? Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/31601/411640-Can-Escaping-from-Poor-Neighborhoods-Increase-Employment-and-Earnings-.PDF
Deforge, J. (2015). War on poverty: 8 challenges poor children face in school. Retrieved from https://www.masslive.com/news/2015/01/war_on_poverty_8_challenges_po.html
Hodgkinson, S., Godoy, L., Beers, L. S., Lewin, A. (2017). Improving mental health access for low-income children and families in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 139, 1-9.
Jordan, R., Mireles, A., and Popkin, S. J. (2013). HOST Youth: The Challenges of Growing Up in Low-Income Housing. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Sharf, R. S. (2013). Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling (6h ed.) Pacific Grove CA:Brooks/Cole.
Simms, M. (2015). Creating employment opportunities for low-income African American men. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/creating-employment-opportunities-low-income-african-american-men
Super, D. E. (1955). Transition: From vocational guidance to counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2, 3-9.
Natasha Barnes, Ed.D, GCDF, CCSP is an Assistant Professor at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. She teaches counselor education courses, and she is most passionate about teaching the career development course. In addition to teaching, she owns a career consultation practice, I.O.U. Consultation, L.L.C., which focuses on implementing career development practices in school settings. Her goal is to help connect people’s passion for their purpose. She can be reached at email@example.com