Much More Needs to Be Done to Help At-Risk Young Men of Color

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

In August 2011, Mayor Bloomberg announced the formation of the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI).  The YMI is a multi-agency effort to improve outcomes for young black and Latino males in New York City.  It focuses on four areas in which there are significant disparities in outcomes between black and Latino young males and their peers: education, employment, justice, and health. 

The YMI is a combination of new programs, program expansions, and continuations of existing efforts aimed at increasing the capacity to serve and improve outcomes for black and Latino males between the ages of 16 and 24.

Building Strong Futures

It was to be a comprehensive effort to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of black and Latino young men in New York City, to help them build stronger futures for themselves and their families.   The YMI was initially funded from predominantly private money from the Bloomberg Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. 

It is no secret that 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, YMI has many programs but is small in scale.  Last year, there were 260 participants in a GED-peer mentoring program; 56 passed their GED.  Low literacy levels are a persistent problem for many young men of color, but YMI’s literacy efforts included only 320 participants citywide, according to YMI’s 2012 Annual Report.

Besides the small scale, another problem is that 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.  Here's one example of the problem: 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.

No NYPD Involvement

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 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 criminal justice and juvenile justice system, it did not include stop and frisk, the NYPD’s controversial policing program.

Yet the NYPD has a huge influence on tens of thousands of young men of color.  Young black men represent less than 5 percent of the total city population, yet are over 40 percent of those stopped by police.  

The new mayor has not made known his stand on YMI.  Perhaps he will see fit to expand it.  The importance of stop and frisk may diminish as the new administration puts new guidelines into effect.  Already, with the city in court over the NYPD’s stop and frisk policies, the number of stops has dropped precipitously.

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.

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