An Untapped Resource: The Key to Lifting the Nation’s Economy by Walter Isaacson and Melody Barnes


What if 7 million youth disappeared from American society?

That’s not a premise from science fiction but reality in communities across the country where 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16 to 24 are no longer enrolled in school or employed in our businesses. These young people represent a tremendous potential loss to our nation and cost to society. In 2011, it was calculated that the lifetime economic taxpayer burden of these young people was $1.6 trillion; this includes lost revenues and increased utilization of social services. Reconnecting young people to school, work and society is a challenge of enormous moral, economic and societal consequence, one that we must get right for the benefit of our youth and communities.

Formerly known as disconnected youth, these young people are now called Opportunity Youth to reflect their optimism, resiliency and tremendous untapped talent. With effective support they will become productive contributors to their communities and our next generation of leaders. America must invest in young people – Opportunity Youth included – to help them develop the skills employers are seeking for available jobs and to ensure our country can compete with the rest of the world. As the saying goes, talent is everywhere but opportunity is not. Our country’s future depends on our ability to harness the potential of young people to meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy.

The White House Council for Community Solutions, established by President Obama to identify solutions to complex social problems, recognized the urgency of addressing the loss represented by disconnected young people. Understanding that the expertise to solve problems often lies in the communities themselves, the White House Council recommended bringing stakeholders from diverse sectors together to work collaboratively to confront challenges facing Opportunity Youth.

The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions was created to continue and build on the work of the White House Council. Through the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF), the Forum for Community Solutions provided grants to 21 urban, rural and tribal communities, bringing together leaders from government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector to remove barriers, connect the many systems that touch young people’s lives and build, deepen and scale education and employment pathways.

Young people themselves are full participants in these collaboratives. Many youth have overcome significant barriers including homelessness, involvement with the foster care and juvenile justice systems and a frayed or non-existent safety net. Despite these obstacles, they still have hope for the future and want to be connected and engaged in meaningful ways to improve the systems that have failed to meet their needs. It’s vital to have them at the table to ensure the reforms work and create powerful avenues for the advancement of future generations of low-income children and families….

Read the rest of Walter and Melody’s article here