As COVID-19 relief continues to roll out in stages, it’s been noted more and more that an entire generation of young adults is being overlooked. But largely invisible is a segment of young adults already left behind even in good times — the lower-income 16- to 24-year-olds not regularly in school or work commonly called “opportunity youth” — who are both in greatest need of relief and greatly able to contribute to recovery.

Even before the pandemic hit the country’s health and economy, an estimated 4.5 million opportunity youth were disconnected from work, education and service — roughly 1 in 9 young people in their age group. With over 26 million Americans filing unemployment claims in the last few weeks, we know that this disconnection cohort will surge: Young workers are typically first to be let go, particularly youth of color and those in poverty, who face the largest barriers to entering careers even in a normal economic climate.

Yet opportunity youth are also a tremendous national asset in this time of crisis, if only we invest in them appropriately. As someone who has been engaged with young adults in YouthBuild USA and other opportunity youth service programs for nearly 30 years, I’ve seen firsthand their tremendous talent and dedication to serving their communities. Graduates of YouthBuild and similar programs leave prepared for success in postsecondary education, careers and registered apprenticeships. We all benefit when these young people are treated not as problems to be solved, but as resilient problem solvers who have navigated broken systems with intelligence and creativity.

Read the full story from the Kansas City Star here.