The Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) is an effort by the city to improve the lives of young black and Latino males. It focuses on four areas in which there are significant disparities between the lives of black and Latino young males and other young New Yorkers: education, employment, justice, and health.
It is a combination of new programs, expansions, and continuations of existing efforts aimed at increasing the capacity to improve the futures for black and Latino males between the ages of 16 and 24. It was initially funded with predominantly private money from the Bloomberg Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
Black and Latino young men in the city are disproportionately affected by poverty, joblessness, an inadequate educational system, a lack of job skills, and the vagaries of the criminal justice system. About 316,000 young black and Latino men ages 16 to 24 live in New York City. Only about half finish high school. Of those who do graduate, few are ready to tackle college courses. About four in five who go on to college need remedial courses.
So far, the YMI has many programs but is small in scale; too small to be effective. In addition, there is very little new money for the YMI. The administration just took a lot of existing programs - some that don't even target young men of color - packaged them together, and called it the YMI. In the few cases where there is new money, it is because the city had to provide a match to federal grants. But the new money ended up being philanthropic dollars from Bloomberg and Soros, not city money. This is bad because those dollars don't get baselines into the city budget.
Rhetoric about the need to support young men of color is good, but so far the YMI is not much else. The largest YMI program, JobsPlus, doesn't target youth or males of color, and is run by HRA, the agency that refuses to serve youth differently from adults. The HRA insists on young people writing resumes for non-existent jobs rather than helping them acquire an education and much needed job skills.
The YMI aims to stanch the flow of young men of color out of school and into the criminal justice system and, while it focused on the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems, it did not include stop and frisk, the NYPD’s controversial policing program. I was concerned after the first few meetings because representatives of the Police Department were notably absent. Of all city agencies, the NYPD arguably has the greatest effect on the lives of young men of color. The overwhelming numbers of New Yorkers who are stopped by police are black and Latino young men.
It is not known what the new mayor will do with the YMI. Perhaps he will expand it. At least Mayor Bloomberg and George Soros recognized the problem, committed funds and laid the groundwork, however flawed the initiative is, for future public policy. But if the YMI is to ever be effective, it will have to be scaled up quite a bit. In addition, there is the question of where the funding for a multi-year program will come from, since it is not a line item in the city’s budget. Also, better targeting will be necessary as well as outreach to those youths who are in dire need of help.