The U.S. economy is struggling to regain its footing in the wake of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. After three years of positive but sluggish growth, the unemployment rate is still unacceptably high, leaving millions of Americans out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Among the hardest hit by this downturn are our city’s youth. On the cusp of adulthood, they are facing daunting challenges in finding a good paying job and making a living.

Currently, nearly 20 percent of young workers are out of work-almost double the national unemployment rate. And in many urban communities, roughly one-third of minority youth are unemployed. This is simply not good enough.

Long periods of unemployment early in a young person’s work life can have lasting negative effects on their future. They will earn less, be less productive and have fewer opportunities. Every day a young person goes without work, we risk losing a future teacher, entrepreneur or community leader. The cost is simply too high for us to do nothing.

Supporting education and training for our youth is one of the smartest investments we can make. It will help rebuild our local economy and pay dividends over the long-term. We need today’s young people to do more than just meet the demands of the new economy. We need them to help lead us there.

That’s why I’m sponsoring the Urban Jobs Act of 2011-legislation that would create an Urban Jobs Program to help connect young people to promising job opportunities and a brighter future.

This program would give New York City organizations the tools and resources they need to help city youth prepare for future jobs, find employment opportunities and reach their full potential. The skills they would acquire through this program are invaluable, both inside and outside the job market.

Under this legislation, national nonprofit organizations, in partnership with local groups, will carry out programs that prepare our young people for new job opportunities and education. These grants-which would go toward valuable programs such as GED and post-secondary programs, occupational skills, on-the-job training and job placement-will particularly help youth who have dropped out of high school. Programs also include services such as health and nutrition referrals, as well as interpersonal and basic living skills.

Community participation is critical for these programs to succeed. With this in mind, the legislation calls for local jobs council advisory committees to be established to ensure community support for local implementation of the program. These local committees will ensure that any program is tailored to each community.

Finally, the Urban Jobs Act would establish a National Jobs Council Advisory Committee to independently analyze and advise on the implementation of these grants and ensure that they are being carried out effectively and efficiently.

We must do more to support young people trying to join the workforce. Our children need the opportunities to gain skills vital in today’s competitive job market. The skills they would acquire through this program are invaluable.

Helping our youth compete in this difficult economy and achieve their true potential will have a lasting, positive impact throughout our communities.