"We have the supply. We don't have a lack of young people who need this opportunity," Mangiardi added.
Just look at some of the nation's largest cities. Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Riverside, Calif., all have more than 100,000 idle youth, the Opportunity Nation report found.
"Often times they lack the social capital in life," Mangiardi said. "There's a whole pool of talent that is motivated, loyal and hardworking." They just can't get through an employer's door, he added.
That's why Year Up spends a year working with high school graduates to teach them career skills such as computer programming or equipment repair they can use when the program ends. It also includes life coaching so they can learn skills such as time management. More than 4,500 young adults from urban areas have completed the program and 84 percent of them have found work.
But it's a far tougher time for other young people.
In Mississippi and West Virginia, 1 in 5 young people are idle — higher than their older neighbors. Mississippi has an overall unemployment rate of 8 percent, while West Virginia posts about 7 percent. Like most states, they saw their unemployment rate fall since 2011, but researchers caution that shift could come from fewer residents looking for work and from more who had simply given up their search for jobs.
And it's not as though the challenges emerge from nowhere. Quality early childhood programs help students from poor families overcome societal hurdles, and on-time high school graduation rates often follow quality schools — other factors Opportunity Nation examined in its report.
"A lot of times we don't want to look at data because we don't want to be depressed," said Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa.