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Why are so many millennials unemployed?

As the U.S. prepares to swing into high gear for the 2016 presidential election, the economy will be a top-of-mind issue for all the candidates and the voters.

Much of the candidate focus will be on the economic realities of working Americans and proposals on how to improve their lives.

What should be part of the political discourse is how to better engage young people – the future of our country and the world – in reaching their full economic potential.

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Indeed, while the national unemployment rate is now at its lowest since 2008 and the U.S. economy continues to add jobs by the hundreds of thousands each month, millennials, those in the 18-25 age group, continue to suffer from unemployment and underemployment at alarming rates.

U.S. census data show that 40 percent of our nation's unemployed are millennials, translating into 4.6 million young people out of work. And the number of employed young people making less than $25,000 a year has spiked significantly to the highest levels in more than a quarter century.

This isn't just a U.S. trend. Cities and countries around the world are grappling with ways to help move their young people towards economic success.

This is important because right now, approximately 75 million youth globally are actively seeking meaningful employment. And cities are set to hold 60 percent of the global population by 2030, just as the number of young people increases by 100 million globally.

To compete effectively for economic opportunities and succeed in the 21st century economy, these young people will need a good education, an entrepreneurial mindset and leadership skills.

These skills can be the on-ramps to success, but there are still many barriers to overcome. Through new research commissioned by the Citi Foundation and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, we see that youth are not just struggling to find employment, but also access to technology, pay equity, and support networks that can help them thrive in cities around the globe.

Consider just the persistent global digital divide and the problem speaks for itself: According to the International Telecommunications Union, 70 percent of youth in developing economies remain unable to access the Internet.

Also consider that the gender-pay gap is equally persistent. Our study shows that young women earn at least 20 percent less than men in the 35 respondent cities.

So, we are at a crossroads. As the world becomes more urban, global and digital, cities can no longer overlook the importance of investing in youth.

Cities around the world need to create programs that proactively foster these young entrepreneurs to help solve societal problems through subsidies and financing, education, real-world training opportunities and, above all, access to information and a professional network.

The Citi Foundation, for example, supports programs that empower young people through education, employability training, experiential learning, and professional resources, enabling them to get a job or start a business.

We have invested over $44 million this year in the U.S. and are heavily focused on efforts to develop a more inclusive financial system that enables entrepreneurs to grow or launch businesses.

For example, we partner with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to support Make Your Job, an intensive national program that empowers young people to develop the entrepreneurial mindset and business skills needed to compete and succeed in the modern workforce.

However, we and organizations working on similar initiatives cannot do it alone. City governments across the world must find creative ways and new partners, including in the business and nonprofit community, to engage these eager, primed youths.

For example, cities can work with their corporate citizens to provide free high-speed Internet access to all, or to create equal access to information.

Local leaders can establish STEM training programs in schools, teaching the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly digital world, or as many do, work with a nonprofit to help build the entrepreneurial mindset in young people and support those entrepreneurs to build their start ups in a stimulating environment.

Young people across the world have ideas and ingenuity – and they believe in a better future.

They bring energy, enthusiasm, and 21st century skills the world badly needs, and often can more rapidly adapt to change and spot emerging opportunities than their older peers.

With millions more youth joining the global workforce by 2050, cities can tackle the many challenges they face by tapping into this rich human capital.

Commentary by Brandee McHale, president, CitiFoundation and director of corporate citizenship at Citi. She is responsible for overseeing the Citi Foundation's global grant making strategy and for leading Citi's citizenship efforts, including volunteerism and environmental sustainability. Follow her at @BrandeeMchale.