News & Politics

New Memo to Bloomberg: New Yorkers Left Behind


In his State of My the City speech yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg quite properly promised to address the ongoing crisis of unemployment among black and Hispanic young men. Out of work rates are no worse here than other large cities, he insisted, but they’re still “totally unacceptable …This is New York! We can do better and we will!” First big step? A study. “We’ll start by conducting a detailed assessment,” he pledged.

But the First New Yorker can skip the study. It arrived on his doorstep on Sunday in a sobering 50-page analysis compiled by a tag team of the Community Service Society and Center for an Urban Future.

The survey, dubbed “Closing the Skills Gap,” describes a twin dilemma: An aging-out process among a large segment of the city’s skilled workforce and an incoming generation unprepared to fill the gap: “Large segments of the city’s workforce currently lack the skills
to fully participate in the labor market … with alarming numbers of public assistance recipients, the formerly incarcerated, young adults, and immigrants all but permanently unemployed, underemployed, or stuck in low-wage jobs with little opportunity for advancement.”

Some of the dire yardsticks of this shortfall found by researchers David Jason Fischer and Jeremy Reiss:

— Twenty-five percent of adult New Yorkers in every borough except Staten Island are functionally illiterate, unable to perform such tasks as reading medical instructions, signing a form, or adding the amounts on a bank deposit slip.”

— The functionally illiterate include 22 percent of New York State residents aged 16 and older.

— New York has the lowest percentage of teens who are
working of the 20 largest cities in the nation.

— The labor participation rate for 16-24 year olds has plummeted over the past decade.

Even those who take a first step toward getting themselves job-prepared often slip off the track:

— “On average, about one-third of CUNY entrants are no longer enrolled a year after beginning classes. By two years after entry, a majority of students are no longer enrolled.”

— As a state, New York ranked “50th out 50 states in 2008 in pass rate for those who take the GED exam.”

Those who make it into the workplace are still dogged by intrinsic discrimination:

–The median wage for white men without a high school degree is $12.47 per hour; Latino men earn $11.69, while black males get an even $10.

The vast army of the city’s “disconnected youth” –those out of work and out of school — has declined only marginally since 2003 when CSS first analyzed the post-2001 economic scene. More kids are now in school, the new survey says, but the number remains “alarmingly large” with some 200,000 city youths still floating through the streets without the tether of job or goal.

As for remedies, the report includes some three-dozen specific antidotes the city should adopt, ranging from acceptable bromides like greater support for technical education to radical welfare restructuring including taking the funds now wasted on the punitive Giuliani-era Work Experience Program and shifting it into transitional job training.

Says CUF director Jonathan Bowles: “Mayor Bloomberg needs to lay the foundation for addressing this skills gap, or countless city residents are going to be stuck in low-wage jobs for years to come and the city’s economic competitiveness will be threatened.”

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