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Many teens drop out of school to aid families

WASHINGTON — Teenagers drop out of high school for all sorts of reasons: lack of motivation, little support from parents, poor academic performance. But for some low-income students, the decision to leave is economic. Many are going to work to help their family.

Using data from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, researchers at the Urban Institute found that nearly a third of the 563,000 teenage dropouts left school to work. These 16- to 18-year-olds were disproportionately male and Hispanic, and ended their education either at the beginning of high school or near the end. Roughly 75 percent of them were native-born Americans, the new study said.


Granted, high school graduation rates among Hispanic students has climbed, with 75 percent receiving a diploma in 2013 compared with 71 percent two years earlier, according to the latest data from the Education Department. Still, young Hispanic men are at high risk of leaving school to work, the Urban Institute study found.

Six out of 10 of the teenagers identified in the study earned less than $10,000 a year working in restaurants, in construction, or cleaning, among other fields. A third contributed more than 20 percent of their household income, and a tenth created more than 50 percent.

On average, what these teenagers earned made up almost a quarter of the money their families needed to live. And that money kept 42 percent of households above the poverty line. Given that wages are stagnant and many high-paying blue-collar jobs are disappearing, more low-income families could simply need more workers in their household to stay afloat, the study concluded.

‘‘We have a lot of assumptions about dropouts being checked out,’’ said Molly Scott, one of the authors of the report. ‘‘But when you look at the amount these kids are working and contributing to their households, they have a lot of economic responsibility at a young age.’’