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Private Sector Engagement: The Key to Tackling Unemployment in the U.S.

In his State of the Union Address this week, President Obama called on businesses to stop discriminating against job applicants who have been out of work for extended periods of time. More than 300 major companies including Walmart, Apple, General Motors, and Ford have already signed a pledge committing to hiring more long-term unemployed Americans. Today, the White House hosted a range of business leaders to examine best-practices for hiring and recruiting, with an eye toward putting the long-term unemployed back to work.

The President’s effort takes a critical step toward tackling long-term unemployment in the United States by engaging employers, who have an important role and responsibility in bringing Americans back into the workforce. We at The Rockefeller Foundation hope this private sector momentum will expand to address an issue that poses an equally daunting threat to the nation’s economic recovery and our economic well-being for generations to come—youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment in the U.S. has reached a crisis point, hitting a 50-year high in the wake of the Great Recession and threatening to leave an entire generation behind. At the end of 2013, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was over 13 percent; more than 5.5 million young people were not in school and out of work; and millions more were unable to secure full-time positions, or jobs that matched their skills or drew on formal training. Young people who are unable to transition to stable jobs by their early 20s face greater difficulty building a secure financial future for themselves and their families. These challenges have devastating consequences for individuals and the country, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of an entire generation, and putting the social and economic future of the nation as a whole on the line.

Access to more opportunities early in their careers would help young people break the cycle of poverty and reduce the growing trend towards vast economic inequality in the U.S. Through its U.S. Youth Employment initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation seeks to create a more inclusive economy—one that expands opportunities for more broadly shared prosperity by employing more youth in career-building jobs. The Foundation is looking to address the youth employment crisis at scale, collaborating with employers to support young Americans’ entry into the workforce. By creating more meaningful career opportunities for young adults, employers have the potential to meet their business needs while simultaneously building a stronger and more resilient workforce.

The Rockefeller Foundation commends President Obama and the employers who have committed to addressing long-term unemployment. This public-private collaboration is vital to helping Americans access stable employment and careers, but long-term unemployment is just one piece of the puzzle. The U.S. must integrate and leverage the talent of its young workers now to ensure the long-term success of America’s economy and promote secure livelihoods for the next generation.

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