Can George Soros, Michael Bloomberg save New York's troubled young men?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $127.5 million plan Thursday to help young black and Hispanic men. The effort includes money from financier George Soros and his philanthropy.

By , Staff writer

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    In this April 24 file photo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during an interview on FOX News Sunday, in Washington. On Thursday, Aug. 4, Bloomberg announced a $127.5 million plan to save New York's young black and Hispanic men with the help of billionaire George Soros.
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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to improve the lives of young black and Hispanic males.

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg announced that the city, combined with his own philanthropy and that of billionaire George Soros, would spend $127.5 million over three years to try to cut down on some of the factors that result in higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and unemployment among young minority men.

“There is no cure-all, and we’re not going to be able to reach every single person, no matter what we do,” Bloomberg said in announcing the program. “But we have to give it our best shot.”

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New York’s effort comes at a time when minority unemployment rates, especially for African-American men, are at a very high level – 17 percent nationally – compared with a 8.1 percent jobless rate for white men. And incarceration rates are high for many young minorities: Three out of 4 young men in New York City who leave Rikers Island return to it. Moreover, even if young men graduate from high school, they are not prepared to go on to college, the city has found.

The Bloomberg effort is a relatively rare attempt to tackle the root causes of minority unemployment, including incarceration and insufficient education. If New York is successful at helping minority males, its programs could become a model for the rest of the nation, outside experts say.

“I am really glad Mayor Bloomberg is stepping forward, and I hope this effort is studied carefully so it can be improved on and other cities can learn from what New York is doing,” says Algernon Austin, director of the program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. “Hopefully, the [Obama] administration will look at this carefully and do similar programs.”

One positive aspect of the new program, Mr. Austin says, is that it’s “more focused” and has more job programs. Bloomberg says it is the first time any city has engaged “every relevant local agency” in a collective effort to improve the lives of young black and Latino men.

According to Linda Gibbs, a deputy mayor of the city, there are between 200,000 and 300,000 males in New York who are between the ages of 16 and 24 and also “disconnected” from jobs and education. “We know that when puberty hits, they start to fall off track,” she says in a phone interview.

Bloomberg, Ms. Gibbs says, made the decision to tackle the problem following his first State of the City address after he was elected to his third term in 2009. “He asked, How are we going to make the city even better? What is the next layer of challenges?”

Bloomberg decided to commit $30 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, and then through his personal connections, he got a matching $30 million from Mr. Soros and his Open Society Foundations. New York City will allocate up to $67.5 million from its budget.

As part of the process, Bloomberg brought in two outside experts: David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation, a school network that works with young men; and Ana Oliveira, president of the New York Women’s Foundation, which works with women, families, and communities.

After doing site visits and talking to academics, they made up a list of hundreds of ideas, which was eventually winnowed down to 40.

The money will go to four distinct areas:

Education. In an effort to get black and Latino men ready for college, the city (with the help of the private money) will begin a program called Expanded Success. This program will target 40 high schools that have already shown some progress in closing so-called achievement gaps. Students will get additional academic support, increased access to college classes, and mentors.

“Once we help young men in these 40 schools graduate ready to succeed, then we’ll know how to do it in every school,” Bloomberg said.

In addition, the Bloomberg effort plans to add mentors for middle-school children and will hold principals accountable for bridging achievement gaps.

Socioeconomic and health issues. The city plans to expand one of its efforts called the Fatherhood Initiative to get fathers more involved in their children’s lives. This will include working with the City University of New York to provide parenting workshops. The program will also try to make city hospitals, health clinics, and reproductive services more welcoming to young men, especially helping them avoid fatherhood until they are ready.

Employment. The program will invest $25 million to expand a city program called Jobs Plus, which helps connect residents in public housing to jobs. An additional $9 million will go to enlarge a subsidized internship program. The city will also help young minority men obtain state-issued IDs, since “too many young people don’t have IDs, making it difficult for them to apply for jobs, open bank accounts, or receive government benefits and services,” said Bloomberg.

Incarceration. The city will try to turn its Probation Department from a “compliance factory” into an agency that connects youthful offenders with employment and educational opportunities. To do this, it will start to move probation offices into the projects and neighborhoods where blacks and Latinos live.

In addition, with $18 million in support from the philanthropies, the city will offer literacy services and programs that pair probationers with mentors from their communities.

“Those mentors will be available to them 24/7 and can help change the attitudes and behaviors that lead to a life of crime,” said Bloomberg.

The city will also examine its own hiring practices to ensure those with criminal records aren’t barred from finding work in city agencies. “I believe that as long as you have served your time and stayed clean, and the crime you committed isn’t related to the job you’re seeking or a threat to public safety, you deserve a second chance, just like everyone else,” said the mayor.

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