Lucky to be alive, Long says he decided to get his life back in order. He returned to school and brought his GPA up from a 0.6 to a 4.1 by the time he graduated.
While a student at the New College of Florida, Long served as student body president for two years and represented more than 300,000 students in the state while serving on the Florida Board of Governors, which directs the State University System. Soon to be a college graduate, Long says he plans to use the prestigious Truman Scholarship he won in April to attend graduate school in the future.
"I was lucky," Long says. "I ... did all kinds of crazy things I never, ever, ever thought that I would be doing. But it was because I had that second chance. It was because in that moment of really just pure despair, I found hope."
The kinds of obstacles Long and his family faced – unemployment, crime rates, poverty and education – vary widely across the country.
In Sarasota, Fla., for example, where Long grew up, the unemployment rate decreased from nearly 10.7 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2013. But in that same time, the mean household income decreased by more than $2,000, the poverty rate increased by 1.2 percent, and the number of high school freshmen who graduate on time dropped by about 10 percent, to 70.7 percent.
Compare that to an area like Nelson, N.D., and you'll see a much different picture. Although the unemployment rate in that county increased by 2 percent, to 5.9 percent in 2013, the mean household income increased by nearly $4,000; poverty dropped from almost 9 percent in 2011 to 0 percent in 2013; almost 90 percent of children ages 3 and 4 are enrolled in preschool; and about 91 percent of high school freshmen graduate in four years.
In Sarasota, nearly 15 percent of youth between the ages of 16 and 24 aren't working, while in Nelson, only 5.5 percent fall into that category. Additionally, violent crime is nearly four times as frequent in Sarasota as it is in Nelson, according to the Opportunity Index.
"Youth disconnection is too big a problem for kids to solve alone," said Sarah Burd-Sharps, co-director of Measure of America, a project that measures well-being and opportunity in the nation. "Talking about giving them a job or an internship is very important, but it's very clear that they come from communities where there is disconnection on every level, where challenges are really great."
Burd-Sharps said in a panel discussion Tuesday that many of the communities with high numbers of youth neither in school nor working were also disconnected a decade ago.
"We have to look at this issue in a bigger understanding," Burd-Sharps said. "There are places that need more than just finding a match between a kid and a private sector opportunity."