01/22/2015 04:57 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Youth Employment: A Pathway to Economic Growth and Better Lives

This week's State of the Union address underscored the critical link between a strong economy and a good education. I was especially glad to hear the president's call for employers to follow the lead of United Way's partner, UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships.

An important nuance in the jobs-higher education link is the impact on young people. In today's America, twice as many youth are unemployed than adults. The number is even higher for young men and women of color.

As part of a strategy to sustain economic growth and support higher education, we need a bipartisan commitment to investment in apprenticeships, internships and work-study programs proven to equip our youth for the world of work. And we need to ensure young adults have access to proven work supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which positions them for greater stability in the early years of work. That's why United Way will continue to advocate for these investments to the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Youth employment is a critical issue gaining momentum across the country and around the world, with an increased focus on youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who aren't working or in school. It's a topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, where United Way Worldwide CEO Brian A. Gallagher is raising the issue with other global leaders. Without a doubt, investing in education, skills training and workforce development pays for itself in the long- and short-term in today's globalized economy.

A recent survey of United Way leaders put the spotlight on youth employment as critical to building stronger communities, with a marked need for greater collaboration between educators and employers. Find out more about what United Ways are doing on this front here.

One thing we can do right now is elevate the issue. In recent weeks, United Way has led a national conversation about youth employment, including a social media campaign, #TalkYouthJobs, that urged President Barack Obama to address youth employment in his State of the Union address. The campaign generated 784,000 impressions and reached 225,000 users on Twitter.

Joining us in this push were a broad cross-section of national business, education and youth advocacy organizations, ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Opportunity Nation to Jobs for America's Graduates and Young Invincibles.

Tune into the Opportunity Summit next month (Feb. 25-26), where this debate will be front and center. What's happening in your community to build youth employment and success? What should be happening? Share your great ideas using hashtag #TalkYouthJobs.

What can you do? Engage your community in a conversation about the state of youth unemployment locally. Ask your elected officials about their ideas for solutions. And advocate for the Earned Income Tax Credit to be expanded. Change doesn't happen without you.