The Obama White House | September 27, 2013

When Martin Luther King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech fifty years ago, the event’s full title was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” That full name, often overlooked in the years since, was selected with purpose. Dr. King and other leaders saw economic opportunity and self-sufficiency as an essential element of human freedom and the American promise. They also understood that businesses, and all Americans, suffered when the collective talents and purchasing power of an entire cohort of Americans – not only African-Americans, but people of all races from disadvantaged backgrounds – went largely unrecognized.

Indeed, employers today may be suffering from the Opportunity Divide more than ever before. In 2011, more than 30% of US employers had vacancies open for more than six months as they struggled to find qualified applicants, even in a time of high unemployment. There are good, family-supporting, middle-skills jobs being created in the 21st century economy, but not enough middle-skilled applicants to fill them.

Meanwhile, 6.7 million young Americans are out of school and out of work. Each of them costs taxpayers an average of $14,000 in social expenses and lost revenues for every year that they remain disconnected from career pathways. Unfortunately, there are some that believe that investing in training for undereducated, underemployed young adults has low returns, but these are smart, talented, and perseverant individuals, with enormous potential to offer employers.

Read the full article in the White House Archives.