The campaign for mayor of New York City has dominated the news recently and will do so between now and the November election. During the primaries, many issues were discussed by the candidates. One area that the new mayor must confront is the crisis of out of school, out of work young people - of whom there are about 185,000 between the ages of 16 and 24. We have not heard a discussion about this issue from any of the candidates. It is imperative that this is not ignored.
We are in danger of creating a generation of jobless young people. The long-term reason is a lack of education and job skills that have produced millions of these “disconnected youth” across the country. This is especially true of young people of color. In New York City, only about half of black and Latino students graduate from high school. The city’s disconnected youth are overwhelmingly black and Latino.
Instead of disconnected youth, we are now being encouraged to use the term “opportunity youth.” I don’t like the term; it smacks of condescension and does not explain their situation. But it’s fine with me as long as we are expending efforts on more than just language. We need to make sure that these young people have real opportunities to return to school and/or start careers.
The current administration has tried to address this crisis. Mayor Bloomberg made this population one of the three targets of his Commission and later Center on Economic Opportunity (CEO), and he has supported a series of new programs to help them get skills, build their resumes, and get on career paths.
One of the best – and most successful – programs is CUNY Prep. CUNY Prep is not just a high school equivalency program. It is also a college program, in which high school equivalency is viewed as just a step on the path to college. CUNY Prep has some of the highest rates of equivalency passage and college enrollment of any program in the city, and it even places staff on campus to support its graduates once they have enrolled in college.
In essence, this program is saying: “come for your high school equivalency, stay for the preparation to go beyond that to college or careers.” The problem is that only about 300 students are enrolled at CUNY Prep.
We need to scale up programs like CUNY Prep. The CEO has shown that these programs can work, but the investments of the current administration have been far too small. The next mayor will need to move from investing in promising pilot programs to a much more robust system of supports for young adults who are trying to get back on track.
The CEO has also created programs for young people seeking jobs through the Young Adult Internship Program (YAIP). This program offers youth that valuable first job from which they can earn money, build skills, and, perhaps most importantly, have something substantial to put on their resumes. Through YAIP, the city has offered a way for community-based organizations to provide services to those young adults who our schools have failed so miserably that they cannot hold jobs in our economy or even participate in a high school equivalency course.
The candidates for mayor should pledge to continue what is working. Too often, programs get cut when new mayors come into office, even effective programs. We must keep supporting CUNY Prep and the other CEO programs that work to reconnect our youth. We must bring them to a scale commensurate to the problem of 185,000 young people without the skills and training necessary to successfully acquire a higher education and/or enter the job market.