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Op-Ed

To Be Equal: Summer Jobs Pay Future Dividends

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Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 

“Your first job brings you more than just a steady paycheck – the experience teaches young people life and work skills that serve them long after the job is done. But as our nation continues to recover [from] the deepest recession since the Great Depression, American youth are struggling to get the work experience they need for jobs of the future.” – White House, “We Can’t Wait Initiative” Statement Release, January 2012

I can still remember my very first job – and the valuable lessons I learned from it that continue to inform my career to this day. I got my first taste of entrepreneurship as one-third of a three-man janitorial company I started with two childhood friends. We mowed lawns, washed cars and cleaned windows. If it needed fixing or cleaning, we were the ones to call.

At the age of 15, I earned my first steady paycheck as a copy boy for a local newspaper. Like so many millions of teens before and after me, I had the chance to be exposed to the world of work at an early age. And I earned more than money from the experience. With work came important lessons about responsibility, effective communication, time management, interpersonal skills and more. Today, as our nation continues to recover from the crippling impact of the Great Recession on our economy and job market, the ability of teens to jump-start their future careers, as they were once able to, remains in jeopardy.

Not only did jobs disappear during our nation’s economic downturn, summer jobs – widely acknowledged as the traditional means of entry into our nation’s workforce for teens and young adults – became scarce. Competition from older workers for those entry-level jobs once reserved for teens increased as the labor market weakened, and with states slashing budgets to make ends meet, state and federally-funded summer jobs placement programs were either underfunded or cut.

But teen employment matters for their future and for our nation’s. It not only gives young people something productive to do during the summer months, that job in the retail store, library or the local newspaper is money in their pocket and money being spent within the community. Studies have also shown that those who work when they are young are more likely to be employed in the future and will earn higher salaries.

After a high of 27.2 percent teen unemployment in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment for workers ages 16-19 is now down to 17.9 percent. As is the case with adult workers, teens are beginning to find jobs as the market recovers, but unemployment remains high for young people—disproportionately affecting low-income youth and Blacks and Hispanics. The national unemployment rate stands at a staggering 30.1 percent for Black teens and 19.2 percent for Hispanic teens. The groups of teens who need the work most in order to help themselves, and very often make a significant contribution to their family’s budget, are not finding the jobs.

Our nation’s answer to this dilemma has been a fractured portrait of private and public initiatives and success. Cities and states have cobbled together money – when it’s in the budget – and have funneled it to local groups or agencies that connect youths to jobs or job training. In 2012, the White House launched Summer Jobs+ as part of the “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The project brought together the federal government and the private sector to create 180,000 employment opportunities for low-income youth.

At the National Urban League, we work with at-risk youth to introduce them into the workforce through a comprehensive set of services through the Urban Youth Empowerment Program. While all of these efforts are laudable and have changed many lives and communities for the better, it is not enough. Our nation needs to expand summer job programs and create year-round employment for our young people. We need a commitment that says yes to teens and to their future. Our nation needs a comprehensive jobs solution for young people, because piecemeal solutions will only deliver far-flung pockets of success.

Investing in our young people is an investment in the continued strength of this great nation and its workforce. Young people need the formative workplace skills they can get in those entry-level jobs to move on to greater career success and higher salaries in the future. Our nation, and its local economies, benefit when teens spend their disposable income. Surely there are tax loopholes, corporate or otherwise, that can be closed, bringing additional dollars to the table to invest in our young people. The financial cost of not investing in teens, not creating opportunities for future success, is what will cost this country, and our future in the fast-paced global economy, the most.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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Community

Closing Youth Prisons Is Not Enough

But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

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Ella Baker Center staff and members attend a Books Not Bars rally in Sacramento advocating to close youth prisons in California. Courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

COMMENTARY

As a parent who was involved in the juvenile system as a teenager, I know too well that children who are struggling should never be incarcerated and treated like criminals. 

Instead, they should be cared for as young people in need of restorative help. This May, dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, was the perfect opportunity to embrace human rights and racial justice by moving from a carceral system of punishment to a community-based health system of restorative care.

“We have a system in place that is not really focused on rehabilitation,” Los Angeles State Senator Sydney Kamlager told CalMatters in January. Unlike some states, we have not had a governing body in California to oversee trauma-responsive, culturally informed services for youth–the majority of whom are youth of color–in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, we in California finally have a chance to make a change. California Senate Bill 823, signed by Gov. Newsom last December, shuts down California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and redirects millions of dollars to counties to provide care and resources for young people. But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

Sonya Abbott and her son Anthony Johnson can attest that a transformation is long overdue. When Anthony was 16, Sonya found a bag of Xanax in his back pocket. Believing that he intended to sell the drugs, she made the difficult decision to turn him in. At the time, she viewed her decision as a way to save her son’s life, and the lives of others.  Now she says, “I feel like it just made things worse.”

As is too often the case, Anthony was cycled through a number of ineffective programs and has been shuttled back and forth among several facilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the DJJ went into lockdown, Anthony was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in San Joaquin County. Feeling lonely and depressed because of the isolation, Anthony asked for extra counseling.

“They refused to give it to me. They laughed at me,” Anthony says.

 Anthony attempted suicide roughly two days later. He remembers a Chaderjian staff member witnessing his suicide attempt and saying, “You’re not doing it right, I’ll call this one in later,” then walking away. Afterward, Anthony was kept in the medical unit for a month, locked in a room for 23 hours a day, without any counseling or companionship.

Throughout all of this, the DJJ did not inform Abbott of her son’s suicide attempt, nor his consequent transfer to Patton State Hospital. After Anthony missed a scheduled Skype visit, Abbott had to call every juvenile facility in California to locate him, and only then learned that he had tried to take his own life. He remains at Patton today.

Statistics show that suicide and suicide attempts are too common. According to a 2014 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection, “11% of the youth (in the juvenile justice system) had attempted suicide at least once,” far exceeding the percentage  in the general population.

Nor are the dangers of youth incarceration justified by the outcomes. A 2015 study from the University of Washington, observed that, “juvenile incarceration is not only ineffective at reducing criminal behavior,” but that those who were incarcerated in their youth were more likely to suffer negative consequences in every aspect of their adult lives.

Abbott describes Anthony as a good kid who just got himself a little lost. “I don’t understand why there’s no resources for these kids,” she says. “They are just locked up and forgotten. I can’t let my kid be one of their victims.”

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new direction. Part of SB 823 creates Juvenile Justice Coordinating Councils (JJCC) in each of our 58 California counties, bringing together experts and constituents like Abbott and Anthony, whose lives have intersected with the juvenile justice system. 

These new councils will help guide how the millions of dollars in new state funding can best be deployed to provide a continuum of care. To inform that process, youth advocates have been working to implement a community vision of care to replace the old carceral model that has failed so many of our most vulnerable young people of color.

Advocates are also pushing the state to properly resource the new department within Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide oversight for the new system. The proposed budget is a woefully inadequate $3 million; Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and state Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined by the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice and members of the Free Our Kids Coalition, are pushing for a larger allocation to help scale up community-based interventions by local groups. 

If a community system rooted in healing had already been in place, Sonya Abbott and Anthony might have received the help they really needed. We can do better for our kids and our communities.

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Entertainment

‘The Neighborhood’ Welcomes New Executive Producer Meg DeLoatch 

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

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The Neighborhood/CBS

Meg DeLoatch/ CBS

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is in the house and in “The Neighborhood.” 

CBS Studios has brought aboard Meg DeLoatch as executive producer and showrunner to guide its popular Monday night, family-centered sitcom starring Cedric the Entertainer and Max Greenfield.

DeLoatch, a proud member of the iconic African American national sorority, is an award-winning Hollywood veteran who’s written and produced a variety of hit shows during her acclaimed entertainment career.  She’s the recipient of two (2021, 2020) NAACP Image Awards and nominated for a 2020 Writers Guild Award for Netflix’s “Family Reunion,” the multi-generational family series she created and currently serves as its executive producer.

An advocate for diversity and inclusion, DeLoatch assembled one of the first all-Black writers’ rooms to authentically voice the comedy series starring Tia Mowry-Hardrict (“Sister Sister”), Anthony Alabi (“Insecure”), and Emmy-winner Loretta Devine (“The Carmichael Show”).  Richard Roundtree (the original John Shaft) guest stars as Grandpa.

An impressive list of industry credits for DeLoatch range from family-friendly shows including Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” and “Austin & Ally” to adult comedies “Born Again Virgin,” “Bette,” (CBS) and “Brothers,” (FOX). DeLoatch created and executive-produced UPN’s romantic comedy, “Eve,” starring Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop artist Eve.  She wrote and executive produced TV One’s comedy series, “Here We Go Again,” starring LeToya Luckett and Wendy Raquel Robinson.

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

The Maryland native is no stranger to celebrity stratosphere having worked with Bette Midler, Jennie Garth and Ice Cube.  Early on, DeLoatch combined her interests in theater, literature and visual media to earn an interdisciplinary degree from American University.  She subsequently moved to California and the rest is Hollywood history.

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Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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