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According to a report from the advocacy group Opportunity Nation, around 15 percent of Americans aged 16-to-24 are considered "idle youth" — they aren't in school and aren't employed — and their futures are being damaged with each minute that passes. These aren't just lazy teenagers sleeping in and neglecting their chores, which is one of the things you think of when you hear the term "idle youth." This is way more serious and has severe economic implications for the whole country.

Opportunity Nation estimates the number of "idle youth" in America is around 6 million people. That's a problem because those young people are missing out on acquiring skills needed in the future to get good jobs, or any jobs. "Without those experiences, they are less likely to command higher salaries and more likely to be an economic drain on their communities," the AP reports. The economic drain that "idle youth" present is the reason we're all kinda scared about countries like Spain and Greece, who have seen their youth unemployment rates skyrocket. 

Granted, our numbers pale in comparison those genuine crises, but the concern comes from the same place — that we're putting our economic future in jeopardy by not addressing young people, and that these people could become part of a bigger unemployment problem in the future. 

The fixes aren't easy. The study found that one of the biggest factors correlating to idle youth was the community people are brought up in. Big, urban cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta all had over 100,000 idle youths, and idle youths were closely tied to communities that were lacking in things like Internet access and public safety.

In short, the ZIP code someone is born in (something they can't control) can have more power in determining a person's future than the will or motivation of that person. Things like early childhood programs could help turn the tide. "The tendency is to see them as lost souls and see them as unsavable. They are not," Mark Edwards, executive director the Opportunity Nation coalition, told the AP. "This is not a group that we can write off. They just need a chance," he added.

Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota topped the list of states where young people are thriving. Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico were among the worst.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.