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Causes of Male Youth Disconnection: Being an ‘Out of Work and Out of School’ Youth in Harlem during an Economic Recession

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I have mentored youth in Harlem for over 7 years. For them, being in an economic situation where it seems like ‘when it rains, it pours’, is nothing new to most if not all of the youth I deal with in Harlem. I mean the bills, homelessness, violation tickets, racial discrimination, probation, joblessness etc, are only a few of the plights many of my mentees and GED students encounter. But I could tell you without a doubt that this recession has definitely deepened their already bad quandary. Most of them who were slightly better off with menial jobs and other sources of low-income are now being faced with the ugly reality of joblessness or inconsistent meager wages, while accumulating more bills and responsibilities to take care of.

The effects of the looming recession, depression, or whatever else we choose to brand it, have only deepened the impact of a nationally growing crisis – Youth Disconnection. Youth Disconnection is a term used to describe ‘Out of Work and Out of School’ youth; a phenomenon, which had always been a serious problem among minority male youth of several urban cities like New York City. However, the recent events of the past few years are exponentially multiplying its population and effects.

In retrospect, the consequences of disconnection contribute to the burdens on every society’s financial and social responsibilities. These demographic of ‘work-capable’ youth constitute only a meager tax base, weaken the security of their communities, have the tendency to resort to drug trafficking, crime and violence, and result in higher expenditures on public benefits. It is therefore a community’s duty to invest in re-engaging these youth, or continue to bear the consequences of a lackadaisical attitude.

There are over 220,000 disconnected youth in the NYC area, majority of whom are males, all on their way or already burdens to society.  This often overlooked demographic, mostly live in poverty, tends to experience sporadic employments, earn underpaid wages, are dependent on public assistance, and most often fall prey to crime and violent deeds.

Interestingly, these youth are supposed to be the socioeconomic drivers and sustainers of our community’s future. Without having the availability of proficient, employable young workers to replace increasingly retiring baby boomers (who are in fact learning now to stay longer on the job because of current financial hardships), several industries on which our economic sustenance is hinged upon is bound to be in trouble. For instance, according to the NYC Labor Market Information Service, the average age of Construction workers in New York City is 50, a figure which translates to an estimated 20,000 construction opening s in 2011.  Also, the healthcare industry, already in jeopardy of insufficient qualified personnel will further experience workforce crises, as one-third of current healthcare workers (nurses and aides) retire. Most of these health personnel were over the age of 50 in 2000.  It is therefore clear that regardless of the economic crises, there is a pertinent need to train and equip youth to fill these openings both now and in the nearest future.

However, in order to solve the problem of disconnection, it is necessary to understand its roots. From research and experience, I have compiled a list of some factors that cause disconnection in Harlem and our societies at large.

A) Dropping Out of School: Employees without High School Diplomas are least likely to hold consistent gainful employments. This is because they are the most vulnerable during job cuts and corporation size reductions. According to NYC Department of Education, African-Americans and Hispanics males were the least likely to earn their diplomas in 2000 (most recent year of relevant documentation). These demographic groups have graduation rates of less than 50%.

B) Aging Out of Foster Care System: Youth who age out of foster care without proper transitioning trainings tend to fall prey to disconnection. These mostly experience instability of multiple foster-care placements, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, mental illness, criminality and/or substance abuse before discharge.

C) Poverty and Low-Quality Education: The economic crises has resulted in the demand of higher levels of literacy and technical proficiency, making it increasingly difficult for even high school diploma holders to find gainful employment with the opportunity of advancement. In fact, the instability and insecurities of parental or guardian income sometimes causes younger school-aged youth to drop out of school in order to find work. Young people with semi- or illiterate parents, who do not stress the need, nor value the importance of quality education, end up dropping out of school for lousy reasons.

D) Early Parenthood: According to studies by Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, teenage fatherhood, which has received far less scrutiny than teenage motherhood has many negative educational, financial, social, health and other developmental consequences for these young men and their children. Young teenage males who become parents while dependent on others tend to drop out of school more often than their counterparts without children. National surveys indicate that there are as much as 7% of male teenagers who are fathers, with higher rates among inner-city and African-American youth (Sonenstein, Pleck, and Ku, 1993).

E) Older Immigrant Youth: In the diverse-rich City of New York, (Harlem being a bouquet of several immigrant groups, from Africans, to Hispanics, to Asians, Arabs, etc), there is a greater chance that older immigrant youth without the time to learn, and ability to fluently speak English will most likely drop out of school. Also, discrimination, social and geographic isolation, little or no job experience, and lower levels of English proficiency make it even increasingly difficult for older immigrant youth to find employment; thus resulting to disconnection.

F) Juvenile Delinquency: Youth with convicted backgrounds find it difficult staying in school or finding work. With more than 2000 juveniles detained in New York City facilities everyday (NYC Council), and 1200 returning to the City from correctional facilities from other parts of the State, more than two-thirds of these youth experience disconnection because of the multitude of barriers encountered while trying to secure employment or re-enroll in school.

G) Youth with Emotional/Behavioral Issues or Learning Disabilities: Emotional or behavioral issues in youth, which are often less obvious than physical impairments, are great contributors to youth disconnection. Each year, 12 – 15, 000 of the City’s 50,000 disabled 14-21 year olds drop out of school without graduating (Advocates for Children, 2005), increasing disconnected youth population.

H) High Levels of Unemployment: While New York City is experiencing high levels of unemployment rates of around 10%, minority based communities such as Harlem have consistently been hit harder by the steep uptick in unemployment rates. According to the New York State Department of Labor, unemployment rates in certain Harlem districts were as high as 18%, even tripling the overall City’s rate in some cases. Studies have shown that whereas the unemployment rates of whites in Upper Manhattan is between 4-5%, rates of Blacks and Hispanics fluctuate around the 20% mark.

Unfortunately, besides the economic crises, unemployment rates are usually closely tied to factors such as education (regions of lesser high school diplomas tend to experience higher unemployment rates), language barriers and criminal backgrounds. These are factors that all plague the Harlem community, as well as hinder the re-engagement of disconnected youth. I was therefore appalled to realize that existing public education and workforce funding for programs targeted to this demographic, serve no more than 7% of New York City’s disconnected youth.  There are very few programs available to disconnected youth that utilize a combined education and workforce development approach.

Re:LIFE, having assessed these obstacles, realized that the missing innovations to the combined education and workforce development approach lacked

a) The training of disconnected youth to become entrepreneurs. As the saying goes, ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’

b) The use of practical and effective youth-friendly curriculum, schedule and flexible modules

c) The right expertise and youth-understanding professionals to coach/mentor youth

Re:LIFE is determined to educate, equip, encourage, cultivate and motivate young disconnected males to become entrepreneurs in diverse fields that will spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, and increase fiscal responsibility in our communities. This entrepreneurial focus will come alongside educational, career and leadership preparations in five different areas of concentration.

For more information about the Re:LIFE Re-engagement Program and other Services, Contact us at:

Email: relife@relifeinc.org

Call: 347.450.1201/06

Visit our Website: http://www.relifeinc.org

Become a LIFEr Today: http://bit.ly/fN6B0b

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By Chike Ukaegbu,

Founder/CEO, Re:LIFE Inc


 

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