Friday, March 02, 2007

Let's Go Crazy

I build that this finds everybody in the best of conditions; mentally, physically, & financially. I know that I've been lunchin' a bit on the blogging, b.u.t. I'm back & ready to build! About 2 weeks ago, I traveled to Philly for business & personal reasons, & I was able to reflect on the similarities and differences between the city that I grew up in & the city that I see now. Philly's always been wild b.u.t. it's like the planet of the apes as far as in the streets, & that's even comparing it to the JBM/Jamaican warfare in 88 & 89. How did the streets get so crazy, you ask? Well before I answer, here's a quote that can provide some context:

"You just looking at the frame; there's a big picture you're missing!"*

What do I mean? when we look at the increasing violence in Philly & cities all over the country, there's a tendency to look at the obvious; the ever-growing culture of sex & violence on television, the breakdown of the black family, etc.. Rarely do we discuss the overarching socio-economic factors that has created what you see out here.

My answer is this: Turbo - Capitalism, Classism, & Racism have combined to create a generation of virtually unemployable Black Men (If worst comes to worst, Black Women can always become a nurse or work at the bank). It starts early, when Black boys suddenly lose interest in anything related to academics. It continues on when Black boys who "act out" are sent to juvenile discliplinary schools that are essentially junior lockups. It happens when Black males are allowed to sit in the back of the class & fail as long as they don't make too much noise or disturb the class. It becomes worse when a 18 year-old who reads at a 3rd grade level decides that selling dope or stealing wheels is a valid career choice, & so on.

All who read my blog know that I dig Good Times; WWJD (what would james evans do?) if he couldn't work at the factory? In the doc Bastards of the party, The narrator directly tied the rise of the B's & C's to post-industrial LA economics; there's not really a mystery about how all of this came together.

Thankfully, this discussion is starting to produce fruitful dialogue. please check the article below from thePhiladelphia Daily Newsthat discusses some of these issues. Next blog, I'll speak on some things that we can do!

WHEN HIS daughter was born two years ago, Lamar Stalworth, 19, wanted a new life. He gave up hustling - selling drugs - and got a job in his North Philadelphia neighborhood cleaning up vacant lots and cutting grass.

Then he lost that job and went for months without an income. Flat broke, Stalworth went back to hustling for a short time.

"But I saw myself being caught up in the game," he says. "And with my daughter, I had more responsibility. I thought, 'Do I really want to do this or not?' "

He decided not, and reached out for help to IDAAY, the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth.

But the appeal of the streets was undeniable.

"Fast money" is what the young men call it. In five minutes, they say, they can make $200 hustling on the corner. It's quick and easy, compared to finding a "legit job" - which they consider a mysterious and frustrating process for which they have few knowledgeable guides.

Stalworth was one of 10 young men meeting in classrooms at Temple University last month, some sent by courts to the IDAAY program for first offenders for possessing guns.

Young men like them - in trouble and with guns - made up the majority of victims and perpetrators of the 2,004 shootings and 406 homicides in the city in 2006. Most perpetrators and victims had criminal records; a large majority had dropped out of school.

Another thing they had in common: Almost all were jobless.

Rising gun violence has alarmed Philadelphians and sent leaders and citizens in search of solutions: more police protection, gun control, curfew and truancy laws, conflict resolution and mental-health treatment.

Now, the city has begun to talk about another potential solution: Getting some of these kids off the streets and into jobs.

Overall, fewer than half of Philadelphians age 20 to 24 have a job, according to 2005 figures. The city neighborhoods with the lowest levels of employment are also among the neighborhoods with the highest levels of crime.

When Bilal Qayyum, an economic-development coordinator in the city Commerce Department and co-founder of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, walked with two other men to Harrisburg last September to protest gun violence, they made the connection explicit: The T-shirts they wore read, "Jobs not Guns."

Their analysis is echoed by experts. "There are many other reasons for crime," says Bernard Anderson, a labor economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and deputy secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. "But there's simply no question that the extraordinary rate of joblessness among young black males in urban areas fuels the crime problem."
None of that should be particularly surprising.

But what is surprising is that there may be something businesses and government leaders can do about it.

Barriers to 'legit jobs'

The young men in the IDAAY program - and others like them in Philadelphia's neighborhoods - say they want to work at "legit jobs." They want the stability of a regular paycheck, the credit they need to buy cars or rent apartments, and the self-respect that comes from taking care of themselves and their families.
But motivation, however fierce, is not enough.

The city's young people face big barriers to work. The biggest: More than 40 percent of Philadelphia public-school students end up leaving school without a degree, according to a recent report sponsored by the anti-dropout effort Project U-Turn.

For people with college educations or other post-secondary-school training, area job prospects are pretty good, says Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, who has studied Philadelphia's job market.

But for those who have only a high-school diploma or who have dropped out, "there is no room at the inn," he says.

It's a truth being lived out around the nation. In earlier generations, when manufacturing jobs were plentiful, school had little practical connection to work. That has changed profoundly. Two-thirds of the new jobs created in the United States between 1984 and 2000 required a college education, a trend expected to continue.

"There are forces in the job market that create a new set of challenges that we haven't had in previous generations," says Sallie A. Glickman, founding executive director of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board. "For adults looking to get into the job market, the pipeline increasingly is through educational credentials."

So nearly half of Philadelphia public-high-school students, those who don't graduate, are forced into desperate contention for low-skilled jobs - competing not only with each other, but also with adult immigrants and women coming off the welfare rolls.

In that competition, they face more barriers to work.

Despite the return of some retail jobs to neighborhoods including South Philadelphia (now home to Ikea and Wal-Mart) and West Philadelphia (where a Lowe's is planned) most jobs remain clustered in the suburbs or Center City, so transportation is a problem. One young man in the IDAAY program says he traveled to Plymouth Meeting, 90 minutes each way from West Philly, for a job at the concession stand in a movie theater.

Many of the young men say they have applied for jobs but never got called in for interviews. One says he saw a McDonald's manager toss his application into a wastebasket.

Maybe he's lucky to have seen the manager's face: Most retail stores and health-care concerns require job applications to be filed online (for more, see Page 5).
Also, at least a third of African-American men in Philadelphia have criminal records. Background checks effectively eliminate many of them from contention for jobs (see Page 5).

And so the cycle continues - so rapidly, in fact, that Philadelphia may not understand the severity of its unemployment problem.

Anderson, the Wharton economist, makes a distinction between the terms "unemployed" and "jobless."

People who have never had jobs, and people who have stopped looking for work, are not counted in the official unemployment rate. That masks the true state of desperation in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, where more than half of African-American men are not working.

Census data recently showed that 40 percent of city residents age 15 and older reported they were out of work - and not collecting unemployment.
Among young men in Philadelphia age 16 to 24, joblessness continues to worsen. In 2000, about 25 percent of men in the city between 16 and 19 had jobs, well below the national average of 36 percent, says economist Harrington.
In 2005, the employment rate had sunk to 19.7 percent. Things weren't any better for 20- to 24-year-old men: In 2000, 57 percent had jobs. In 2005, the rate had fallen below half, to 49 percent. "These are big losses," Harrington says.
Joblessness and violence

It was a poignant and troubling scene on Feb. 8 outside Community College of Philadelphia, at 17th Street near Spring Garden: Hundreds of people, dressed for success, holding folders with resumes, waiting for hours in bitter cold to enter a career fair.

In a recognition of the role that jobs play in fighting violence, the fair was sponsored by the city as part of its Safer Streets campaign.

In the auditorium, 92 employers were taking applications. The city says more than 2,000 people showed up.

"It shows that people need jobs and that they want to work," says Leon Simmons, director of the Work Wise job-search program in the Mayor's Office of Community Services.

"This is a capitalist country," says Bilal Qayyum. "You've got to work. You've got to pay rent. It's very simple. Everybody has to have an income."

The benefits of work, however, run far deeper than merely paying the rent.

Youth employment is an unrecognized aspect of economic class: The "haves" have the option to work; the "have-nots" don't, and may not understand why it is important.

Research shows that students who work part-time in high school are less likely to drop out and more likely to go on to post-secondary schooling. Over the years they tend to earn more than those who didn't work when they were students.
"If there's one thing that kids with an advantage do, it's that they work," says Glickman, of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board. "That's the difference between middle-class families and the kids that are on the other end of the spectrum."

One of the men in the IDAAY program put it this way: Working is "starting on your manhood."

Not working, on the other hand, can prompt young men to prove their manhood in different, destructive ways.

Like most American cities, Philadelphia is home to a growing number of young people who are both out of school and out of work - in 2004, that group made up 24.1 percent of all city residents age 16 to 24. Urban-poverty experts call them "disconnected," with serious consequences both for them and for their cities.
Elijah Anderson, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the 1999 book "Code of the Street," has made one of the most persuasive connections between the city's joblessness and violence.

He says that the scarcity of even low- wage jobs and the reduction of welfare benefits feed an underground economy of barter and informal arrangements - some legal, some not.

"Respect" - the power to exact vengeance against others - is the coin of the realm for these arrangements, says Anderson. The demand for respect often is the source of disputes that escalate into gunshots.
And that's one reason that, as in most cities, violence in Philadelphia is limited by geography and social class, only rarely breaking out of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Yet, although Philadelphia taxpayers are not all in equal danger of being shot, all do bear the financial burden of the shootings.
The price is stunning: According to former City Councilman Ed Schwartz, who chaired the Philadelphia Tax Commission in 2004, more than 40 percent of the city budget - $1.3 billion - is spent responding to crime.

Looked at this way, the joblessness that leads to violence is more insidious than mere lack of money, and jobs are more valuable than the income they produce.
What could turn it around

Getting more Philadelphians to work will require big, systemic fixes as well as targeted programs. Some of the big fixes - tax policy that supports job creation, economic-development efforts that work with local governments, school reform - are under discussion, even if the methods or the results are up for debate.
What does work, in the interim?

Smaller programs - the kind of help that various workforce development organizations in the city can, and do, provide to potential workers.
One such organization, the Philadelphia Youth Network, provides overall management around jobs for youth in Philadelphia: apprenticeships and internships through public schools; 7,800 jobs for young teenagers with a summer component; and the WorkReady program, which links students to internships in local companies.

To support the work, PYN blends resources from numerous funding streams - government and private foundations and employers themselves.
In the process, PYN makes it easier for employers to take a chance on someone whose resume doesn't jump out, or whose background might engender doubt, says PYN President Laura Shubilla. PYN also runs the payroll for the kids who work.
Through the WorkReady program, employers can tell PYN what kinds of jobs are available and how many kids they can employ. Working with the School District of Philadelphia and 90 community organizations, PYN has the capacity to match kids' interests with work they will enjoy. The kids are pre-screened and given employment supports, and PYN advises companies on how to mentor them.
"We're the eHarmony of youth employment," Shubilla says, referring to a popular online matchmaking service.

Matching kids to the right jobs pays profitable dividends: "Some of the companies hire the kids year-round," says Shubilla. "Many of the employers will ask for the kids back year after year. Some kids have gone to college, and often they come back to those employers when they're on their breaks."

Fast money or fast grave

Employment makes a significant difference in the lives of young people. With support, jobs can transform lives and futures - but Philadelphia is tens of thousands of jobs away from providing opportunity for work to everyone who wants it.
So the responsibility falls to local organizations and businesses to provide pathways out of joblessness and poverty.

Meanwhile, Lamar Stalworth is still looking for a job.

He, and the other young men in the IDAAY program, understand that finding that elusive opportunity holds the potential to save their future - and even their lives.
One young man gave voice to it as the group met at Temple last month:
"Fast money" often leads, he said, to a "fast grave"

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