Stories & Grievances
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and The Young Men's Initiative by Justin Birch
Last month Mayor Bloomberg approved a $127 million initiative to improve the circumstances of the city's black and Latino men, contributing $30 million of his own money to the effort. The initiative purports to, over the next three years, help out in areas of education, jobs, health and the justice system....Unfortunately, many of these same ideas have come around before......
The Young Men's Initiative
by Justin Birch
Last month Mayor Bloomberg approved a $127 million initiative to improve the circumstances of the city's black and Latino men, contributing $30 million of his own money to the effort. The initiative purports to, over the next three years, help out in areas of education, jobs, health and the justice system. Ostensibly, the reforms seem like a good idea: Linda Gibbs, the deputy mayor of health and human services, fairly chirps about it in an interview with the National Public Radio, mentioning various strategies such as literacy training, community service to promote self-worth, providing subsidized employment and teaching these young men how to be better fathers than their fathers may have been. With a focus on engaging these youths, finding mentors for them and bringing them opportunities to blossom as human beings, the initiative is widely perceived as a brilliant idea.
No one can deny the problems that face young black and Latino men in New York today. Their poverty rate is 50 percent higher than white and Asian men, they have a 60 percent higher unemployment rate, and they are also two times more likely to have never graduated high school. They are more likely to become teenage fathers, and 90 percent of all young murder victims across the boroughs are either black or Latino. Many of these challenges arise because of a lack of social support, which can lead to a downward spiral of intergenerational suffering as fathers end up in jail and young men find no other good model to look up to.
So surely all these efforts to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration of these young men is highly laudable, and in fact they are. Unfortunately, many of these same ideas have come around before: relocating government services such as criminal rehabilitation and education to the community and creating paid mentors are all relics of the War on Poverty in 1964. Over the years these ideas have been rebranded over and over again in the hopes that they will work this time, that this time things will come together in just the right way for change to happen.
Yet systemic change does not come easily. These ideas are highly attractive but they lack some of the forethought that one would think should come after years of attempted implementation. For example, the original War on Poverty's focus on black America caused the white middle class to start thinking that they were responsible for footing the bill for an increasingly irresponsible group of impoverished people, which created a racist mentality that persisted for many years especially as the economy fell in the 1970s. While Mayor Bloomberg's money as well as that of the philanthropist George Soros is helping to fund the Young Men's Initiative, there is still $67.5 million that is being taken from city funds, and with the strong focus on blacks and Latinos it is doubtless that there will be some backlash.
Another problem is that the communities this initiative relies on are lacking funds as well. The initiative proposes to hold schools responsible for the success of these young men by means of standardized testing, which could end up being highly detrimental for everyone. Schools across the nation are already rallying about the futility of test scores in measuring student ability, and how much more so will it be when city schools are scrabbling to pump up scores to survive. Without a sensitivity to the current strains schools are already facing, this new initiative may not manage to pass its tests either.
Perhaps the time has come for these initiatives to make good, and perhaps the monetary assistance from Soros and Bloomberg will greatly affect the ability of these ideas to move forward. The rewards will be great, but the challenges may be greater. It will take time to see whether or not these ideas flop just as they did in the '70s, but in the meantime we can hope for their success and work on ways to make them more relevant to our day and age.
NYC Boasts $127 Million For Black, Latino Youth
by NPR Staff
Mayor Bloomberg's three-year project is designed to offer young men of color job training and placement, mentorships, fatherhood classes and pathways from incarceration to civic life. The city's deputy mayor of Health and Human Services explains the reasons for this "Young Men's Initiative" and how it works.
ALLISON KEYES, host: And now we're going to hear about a program aimed at giving young African-American and Latino men the tools to rise above the circumstances that often trap them into a cycle of failure. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a plan, the Young Men's Initiative, to tackle the many disparities that slow the advancement of young men of color.
Besides taking on the obvious, such as job placement and improvements in education, the initiative also seeks to train mentors and peers who are essential to helping them get ahead. The billionaire mayor is even backing the $127 million plan with some of his own money.
We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called on Linda Gibbs. She's deputy mayor of health and human services for New York City and she will be working with the city's education department to develop and implement the program.
Hey, Linda, welcome.
LINDA GIBBS: It's so nice to be here with you.
KEYES: Let's talk first about some of the reasons for this in the first place. I know last year New York implemented an investigation into some of the barriers black and Latino youth face. And the statistics are a little, you know, upsetting. The poverty rate is 50 percent higher than that of white and Asian men. Their unemployment rate is 60 percent higher. They're two times more likely not to graduate from high school and more than 90 percent of both young murder victims and suspects are black and Latino. Why are the circumstances for these young men so dire?
GIBBS: We've seen so much progress in a lot of fronts in the city, improved graduation rates, lower incarceration rates. But even with those - all those indicators pointing in the right direction, we still see that black and Latino men are over represented in systems of negative outcomes like our jails and our prisons and underrepresented among high school graduates and college-going students.
And so what we wanted to do is rather than rest on our laurels and declare victory because of these overall improvements, we wanted to say we need to build on that foundation and close the gap and look really hard in a very explicit way across all city agencies and, really, across all facets of a young man's life and understand what are the barriers that are keeping them from succeeding as well as their white peers and as well as their female peers.
KEYES: Let's talk a bit about the job piece of this program because millions of young black and Latino men are looking. How does this program work? Does it only provide training or does it create real jobs as well?
GIBBS: The employment strategies are pretty diverse. Everything from literacy training - we have the unfortunate situation where a number of our young men are not even able to participate in a GED program. If they're a high school dropout and we want to get them that certificate to improve their employment, they can't even qualify for a GED program because their literacy level doesn't get them at the starting point.
So we have everything from literacy training that is assisting them to be ready to take a GED course, to explicit job training and subsidized employment, which can be really critical in the light of the interviews you just had preceding this one, lots of conversation around how difficult the economy is. What oftentimes makes a difference for a candidate is whether or not they have a relevant recent experience.
And so by providing subsidized employment with employment placement assistance at the end of that internship, we can help improve the odds that that individual can get a leg up in that competition for those jobs that are out there.
KEYES: So there's not a certain number of jobs guaranteed is what you're saying.
GIBBS: That's right. We have - while there are many strategies that include job placement where the program is subsidizing the income, what we know is that the real strategy for success is to help as many individuals as possible to compete for the jobs that are available in our local economy. And for employers we want them to know that we are gearing our training programs to meet their employment needs.
So instead of training individuals for jobs that are no longer existent in New York City, we're working closely with our labor market in order to understand - where are the job growth opportunities? Health care, service industry, New York and technology. We have a lot of areas even in the face of this recession where we see employment growth and so the lining is really important.
KEYES: Let me jump in a second and ask about the fatherhood classes that are a part of this. I was very interested in that. You have not only fatherhood classes for this group of young men who are more likely to become teen fathers, but there's also a piece here involving reducing barriers to father engagement. Talk to us a little bit about that briefly.
GIBBS: Sure. What we know about being raised black or Latino in the city is that you are so much more likely to be raised by a single mom and that you have very attenuated contact with your parent, your father, who is not living in the home. And what we want to do is to help young men who maybe prematurely became parents, but that's, you know, the fate that they are living with at this point.
We want to help them to be better parents to their sons and their daughters. To help to strengthen that young person's chances as they grow up, to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. But we also want to make sure that when we as a city government or nonprofit organizations that operate in the communities of the city, when we offer services, we don't want to inadvertently exclude men.
Oftentimes programs, you know, you'll see a poster, come on in for this great childcare program and it'll be a mom and a child. Well, let's get some posters up that show a dad and a child to send the message out to the men, you're welcome here. These are things that are available to you that you can access. Creating teen-friendly clinics is a great example of that. Let's help boys feel comfortable walking into that community clinic and getting their family planning assistance just as girls can.
KEYES: Linda, I need to jump in here for a moment and say, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. We're speaking with New York City Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs about the Young Men's Initiative, a new plan to help the advancement of the city's black and Latino men. An important piece of this program is also helping young people with criminal records have a better chance at getting jobs. Tell us how that works.
GIBBS: Sure. We have, unfortunately, much higher rates of incarceration among black and Latino men than white men. What we have been working hard on is strategies to allow for community-based alternatives, rather than incarceration when public safety allows for that. And we have a good, strong program where a person who's taken a wrong step, made a mistake, can get the chance to get their lives back on track in the right direction.
Many of the programs include employment components that are very focused on community service. And so the young men actually work together with community groups to discuss what the community wants. And then the young men are engaged in a project that allows them to appreciate their value as contributing members of their community. And it allows the community to see them as somebody who adds value to my street and my block and not just a potential problem.
And so it's really creating those - not just giving them training and employment opportunity, but really re-engaging them in their community as an asset to the community.
KEYES: Linda, really briefly, what's the incentive to get young people to do this and stay involved?
GIBBS: Well, sometimes it's the incentive that if they can successfully do that, they can avoid detention. They can stay at home with the family. And ultimately what we want to do, though, is really to help them shape a vision of them self and their future that is full of potential and opportunity rather than one that is bleak and might cause them to give up on themselves. It's really building confidence and a set of personal goals for themselves that help to motivate them along.
You mentioned earlier in the introduction the importance of mentors. And this is really where the mentoring comes in. If a young person has a mentor that they can turn to when the going gets rough, the chances are that they're going to have a better opportunity to sort of muscle their way through that problem. And then instead of seeing it as, you know...
KEYES: Linda, I've got to cut you off. I'm so sorry. Linda Gibbs is New York City's deputy mayor for health and human services. She joined us from our bureau in New York. We will check back and see how this program is going.
GIBBS: Thank you so much.
Heather Mac Donald
Back to the Future on Poverty Policy
Mayor Bloomberg’s latest program is a greatest-hits package of failed ideas.
City Journal, 9 August 2011
Selective amnesia is an essential trait in anyone promoting government antipoverty initiatives. Last week, as he announced the Young Men’s Initiative, a government effort to improve the life outcomes of black and Hispanic males, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to assert the radically new nature of the program. The “pioneering new initiative” (which will cost taxpayers $67.5 million, with another $60 million thrown in by George Soros and Bloomberg himself) represented “an entirely new approach” to poverty reduction, said Bloomberg. The “across-the-board policy reforms” of the “action plan” would “fundamentally change the way our agencies interact with black and Latino young men,” leading to “systemic change.”
In fact, the Young Men’s Initiative consists largely of warmed-over policies dating from the War on Poverty, such as job training, relocating government services to “the community,” paid mentors (often with “street” backgrounds), and multi-agency “collaboratives.” Over the decades, liberal foundations have repeatedly rebranded these measures as new ideas that would finally provide the long-sought panacea for dysfunctional urban behavior. There is no reason to believe that this latest iteration of War on Poverty programs will be any more successful than the previous versions.
The premise of the Young Men’s Initiative, like that of its predecessors, is that government has the capacity to produce upstanding, bourgeois citizens—if it just gets all its agencies to act in a coordinated fashion. “This is the first time that New York or any major American city has engaged every relevant local agency in a collective effort to improve outcomes for black and Latino young men,” Bloomberg said hyperbolically. He did not disclose how city hall decided which agencies were “relevant” to raising children right and which were not. The initiative will set up job-training and job-placement centers in housing projects, on the theory that residents can’t be bothered to seek work outside their homes. Nothing new there, either: the New York City Housing Authority has located job centers in projects for years. And for black and Hispanic boys failing in school, the initiative will offer paid internships in city agencies at $7.25 an hour if they get free tutoring in math and reading; apparently these boys can’t be bothered to study without payment.
Reported the New York Times in a front-page article extolling the new initiative: “Aides to the mayor said the new measures emphasized the practical needs of the city’s most impoverished black and Latino men, many of whom are unable or unwilling to enroll in time-consuming education and training programs unless they are compensated, according to the officials.” Bloomberg’s doomed Conditional Cash Transfer program also paid citizens to take action in their own self-interest, producing almost no change in behavior. And the practice of paying some people for behavior that for others is simply a norm isn’t merely ineffective; it raises ethical questions as well.
The Young Men’s Initiative will also measure whether schools are closing the achievement gap—something that the federal No Child Left Behind Act already does, though to no effect, because it does not insist on traditional pedagogy and unbending codes of conduct in inner-city schools. The YMI is equally silent on restoring explicit norms and teacher-centered learning to the classroom, offering instead, according to Bloomberg, vague “academic supports [and] increased access to college classes and mentors” to failing students—though if they can’t read and write, it’s unclear why access to college classes will help them. And the YMI predictably looks to government as the employer of first resort: it will require city agencies to remove any screening for convicts in their first tier of job applications.
The Times noted that though “the populations of young white, black and Latino men in New York are roughly the same size, 84 percent of those in the city’s detention facilities and nearly all of those admitted to children’s and family services facilities are black and Latino youth.” Since Mayor Bloomberg claims to be a fan of managing by information, here are some more data for him to focus on: in the Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood in 2009, 84 percent of births were to unmarried women, according to city health statistics, followed by Brownsville, Brooklyn, at 81.2 percent; Hunts Points, the Bronx, at 80.4 percent; and Morrisania, the Bronx, at 79.1 percent. East Tremont (the Bronx), Bushwick (Brooklyn), and East New York (Brooklyn) all had out-of-wedlock birth rates well above 70 percent. Compare those with the rates in largely white neighborhoods, such as Battery Park (6.8 percent), the Upper East Side (7.9 percent), and Murray Hill (8.6 percent).
The breakdown of the family lies behind all other urban dysfunction. Until marriage is restored as the norm for child-rearing in the inner city, black and Hispanic crime rates and education failure will continue to be disproportionate. No government program can possibly compensate for the absence of fathers in the home and the absence of the cultural expectation that men will be responsible for their children. The YMI does sidle up to this truth, but only in a watered-down, highly compromised fashion. In his speech, Bloomberg almost parodically presented family breakdown as a “health” issue rather than a moral one. Barack Obama was braver in a campaign speech on Father’s Day 2008 when he said: “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that . . . too many fathers [are] missing from too many lives and too many homes.”
Bloomberg implied that lack of access to medical facilities lies behind the astronomical out-of-wedlock birthrates in the inner city: “We’ll help more young men avoid fatherhood until they are ready—by making our hospitals, health clinics, and reproductive health services more welcoming to young men.” It is unclear why a more welcoming hospital is necessary to convince a young man to abstain from sex until he and the young lady are both prepared to raise a child, or, barring such self-restraint, why he can’t buy a condom in a drugstore and use it.
The mayor is eager to talk about marriage for gays and lesbians, but he cannot bring himself to use the word when it comes to black and Hispanic heterosexual couples. His initiative proposes to ensure that both parents are “fully engaged . . . even if they don’t live together.” But men who have fathered several children by several different women—the dominant pattern of inner-city “multipartner fertility” today—are unlikely to be able to engage “fully” with all their children, even if such out-of-home engagement were an adequate substitute for a married father in the home. Marriage obviously does not guarantee fidelity or parental permanence, but it is the only institution we have devised that encourages both parents to live up to their obligations to children. If the mayor had really wanted to do something radical, he would have made marriage and values the focus of his new program—by requiring every city agency to come up with a plan for promoting marriage, while using his mayoral bully pulpit and the city’s access to advertising venues to proclaim the responsibility of both parents to create stable homes for their children.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Young Men's Initiative: The White Mayor's Burden