Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Edition Resources

On this Thanksgiving day, we'd like to express our appreciation for all the organizations and dedicated individuals in New York City that work tirelessly on behalf of disadvantaged youth. 

Below are a few recent announcements that might be of use to practitioners:

  • The New York City Employment and Training Coalition' Annual Summit will take place on December 2. Visit: to register.

  • Protect Your Money: Know Before You Enroll Campaign.  New York City's Office of Financial Empowerment has launched a new campaign -- Protect Your Money: Know Before You Enroll -- to educate New Yorkers about predatory school scams and highlighting free and low-cost school choices. This is very welcome and important news for young people considering enrolling into college.
  • Article 23-A Hiring Guide for NYC Employers Released.  The Doe Fund has released a guide to the little known and often misunderstood Article-23A New York State law that regulates how employers consider job applicants who have criminal records.  Written for employers, How To Comply With Article 23-A When Hiring (PDF) explains in clear language what employers may and may not ask about criminal histories, the factors they must weigh in deciding whether the criminal record merits exclusion from a job, and protections provided to employers who follow the law.  This publication was put together with financial support from The Doe Fund, and the contributions of many industry experts.   
 JobsFirst NYC wishes everyone a happy, healthy and joyful Thanksgiving! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Read All About It: Highlights from the Fall 2011 CBO Network Meeting

 Highlights from the Fall 2011 CBO Network Meeting 

On October 25, the JobsFirstNYC CBO Network reconvened at the Door in Manhattan. This was a great event, and since the information was so helpful, we are sharing what was included to our full network for those that could not attend that day. 

John Twomey, the Executive Director of NYATEP, joined us to provide an update on what is happening on the policy front concerning policies specific to young adults and workforce issues, and notably highlighted some of the challenges we are all facing in terms of both the in school and out of school unemployed young adult population in New York City. Of note, he referenced a recent report from McKinsey and Company that highlights some of these challenges in terms of building a globally competitive workforce in the near and longer-term. He also provided some thoughts on the current state of the American Jobs Act (and the implications of this act on out of school/work younger adults) and also provided some concrete next steps for people to consider in terms of advocating for this vulnerable and evolving group of young people. You can download John's presentation here (PDF). 

Jonathan Bowles of Center for an Urban Future (CUF), along with consultants Margaret Stix and Glenn Von Nostitz presented preliminary findings regarding what we are currently calling "Second Chance of a Life Time" (working title). JobsFirstNYC has commissioned CUF to reprise the 2006 Chance of a Lifetime publication in order to take a closer look at where there may be employment opportunities in the near-term and future economy for young adults. This report, which will focus on specific occupations, not necessarily sectors, will unearth some interesting, even counter-intuitive ideas about where young people today can prepare for meaningful and competitive jobs in tomorrow - especially where there may be continued growth and demand specific to the featured occupations. We hope that this report will released before the conclusion of the 2011 calendar year; stay tuned for more details. 

Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York (GJNY) presented ideas (PDF) on how tax subsidy and industrial development subsidy information can be effectively leveraged to assist workforce practitioners to both prospect for jobs and to engage businesses that are new to specific neighborhoods in the City. For many years, the publication of subsidy information seemed to be a best-kept secret, but due to the great advocacy work of GJNY, this information has been made much more understandable and usable by the public through the GJNY subsidy snapshots -- listings of subsidies by community boards throughout the city.  Bettina also shared helpful tools they have developed or rely upon:

  • Sign up for our monthly subsidy alert (learn about public hearing

If you missed this event but wanted to see the agenda, you can get it here.  For more information, please contact Gwen Hill.  

The next CBO Network Meeting will take place on January 31, 2012 from 9-11:30, so save the date/time; location and other details to follow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shadow Work, Or the Rise of the Machines

"Remains Of Ancient Race Of Job Creators Found In Rust Belt" recently proclaimed the headline on the ever trenchant The Onion website.  The article described the ruins of America's industrial heartland as if they were the remains of an ancient civilization that, amazingly, once provided high paying jobs to all its inhabitants.

As to how the ancient cities of employment fell into ruin, scholars have argued the job creators may have exhausted their resources or, perhaps, been killed off by a competing race of foreign job creators.

"The remaining local population has its own mythology to explain the job-creating race's disappearance," Decker said. "Legend has it that they never died out, but rather entered a state of deep slumber from which they will one day awaken, bringing increased employment with them."

"And perhaps it's best to let the locals hold on to this belief," Decker added. "It's really the only thing they have left."

The bittersweet humor, of course, comes from the fact that America's manufacturing prowess led the world until just a generation ago when a combination of forces -- industrial automation, cheaper foreign goods, the stagnating competitiveness of American companies, anti-unionism, free trade agreements, stricter environmental regulations, etc. -- caused millions of blue collar jobs to disappear.  In the wake of deindustrialization, workers at the bottom of the labor ladder have seen their opportunities for living wage employment shrink dramatically.    

Alarmingly, the forces that decimated American manufacturing are now working their way through white collar jobs as well.

Technology, of course, has been eliminating service jobs for years.  Americans now do increasingly amounts of unpaid "shadow work," a term coined by the Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich, in their day-to-day activities that once would have been handled by actual workers.  ATMs have reduced the need for bank tellers; word processors replaced stenographers; self-service checkout lines have displaced cashiers and baggers at brick-and-mortar stores; travel websites and airport check-in kiosks have reduced the number of agents needed; DVD rental by mail has eliminated video stores altogether.  We accept this shifting of responsibility because it often leads to lower costs or greater convenience. 

But as the pace of technology improves, the range of jobs being eliminated has exploded.  In their new book, Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy (2011), MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew P. McAfee examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery over the past two years.  They note that rapidly growing productivity among American workers and record corporate profits in 2010 and 2011 have failed to translate into new job; instead, companies increased spending on equipment and software by 26 percent since 2009.

With increasingly sophisticated software able to perform tasks once thought to be distinctively human -- such as understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns --  automation is rapidly eliminating jobs in call centers, marketing and sales.  As the capabilities of computers increase, almost no industry will be immune.  With Google's robotic cars now logging thousands of miles each year unassisted, the days of that quintessentially human occupation of truck driving may be numbered.

In short, virtually any "process" job that involves repetitive steps is likely to disappear eventually.  The key to success in this new environment, the authors argue, is to focus on jobs that require intuition and creativity — traits that computers perform poorly.  Whether the US education system is up for preparing students to tap those necessary skills is a topic for another blog entry . . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Upcoming JFNYC Events!

JobsFirstNYC CBO Network Meeting on October 25
The next CBO Network meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 25th from 9-11:30 a.m. at The Door.

This meeting has a full agenda, including an update from John Twomey of NYATEP regarding the progress of the American Jobs Act, an overview of a forthcoming JobsFirstNYC - commissioned publication by Jonathan Bowles of Center for an Urban Future, and a discussion about how to leverage information regarding business subsidies and tax incentives in an overall employer engagement/job prospecting effort by Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York.

Click here to download a copy of the agenda (PDF).
Click here to register for this event.

You'll also get to meet Evelyn Fernandez-Ketcham in her new role as Deputy Executive Director for JobsFirstNYC. She begins her work at JobsFirstNYC in November. We hope you can join us!
JobsFirstNYC to co-host Job Development Networking Event with WPTI on November 1

Based on the resounding success of our inaugural Job Development Networking Event this past July, we are making these breakfast events a standard. This next event, focusing on "closing the sale", will feature a guest presentation by Walter Reyes, who in his recent work at Goodwill Industries, led their staff training and human resource development work. This will be a great opportunity to meet and network with colleagues and to consider strategies in overcoming employer concerns in the engagement process.

This event will take place at Aloft Brooklyn from 8:15-10:30 a.m. on November 1st.

Click here to download a copy of the flyer (PDF).
Click here to register for this event.
Participate in Upcoming JobsFirstNYC Practitioner Work Groups
The Criminal Justice and Employing Young Adults Task Force meets Friday, October 21, 9-11 a.m. WPTI will host. This is a work group with a specific action-item agenda. While newcomers are welcome, the meeting will be dedicated to standing/existing business. If you're already on the task force, you will receive an agenda and calendar invite directly. To learn more, contact Lou at

The Employer Engagement Work Group will take place Friday, October 28, 9-11. OBT will host. This work group will focus on employer engagement best practices, and will include an overview of the work of Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow along with a brief tour of their Bushwick program. A separate e-vite will go out regarding this meeting shortly. If you wish to learn more, contact Lou at

Stay tuned for the next Connecting Young Adults with Basic Skills to the Labor Market Work Group date, to be sent shortly.
Save the Date: The Next Meet the Employers Event - Focusing on the Hospitality Sector - takes place December 8

Based on the success of our first meeting (that focused on the health care sector) in September, we're offering another program and another chance to connect with employers on December 8th. Like the first event, this will be a mini-practicum for practitioners, whether you are a front line worker or a senior staff, there are clear benefits and take-aways from this program, which will focus on: Higher-level labor market information in the sector, perspectives from hiring executives in key industries, and then hands-on work with employers and with your colleagues in facilitated break-out sessions focusing on resources, new strategies, and best practices.

If you missed the September meeting but want to get the materials we shared with participants, contact Lou at

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bridging the Digital Divide in New York City

"Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it."  

The recent announcement of Comcast's Internet Essentials program -- providing low-cost computers, Internet service, and digital literacy training to families who qualify for free lunches at public schools -- started us wondering what affordable options exist for New York City's young people.

The "digital divide" -- discrepancies in who has high speed Internet connections (generally defined as greater than 10 megabit-per-second download capacity) and the knowledge to effectively use digital tools -- remains a significant problem in the United States.  Fast and convenient access to the vast resources of the Internet -- the employment listings and job applications, health information, government benefits, education resources, financial and communication tools, lower cost retail options, up-to-the-minute news, and a thousand other uses -- ease daily tasks and contribute to economic progress. 

Hard numbers on broadband usage in New York City are difficult to find, but the Pew Research Center last year found that nearly 90% of households nationally with earnings of over $75,000 had broadband access in the home, compared to less than 40% of households earning under $30,000.  The situation is especially difficult for minorities, who are statistically more likely to use their cell phones to access the Internet; the devices' small size makes them more suited to entertainment and casual communication than, for example, filling out an online job application.

Comcast's service area does not include New York City, so Gotham residents are not eligible for the Internet Essentials program.  Unfortunately, the city's recently renewed franchise agreement with Time-Warner Cable and Cablevision, which gives the two companies exclusive rights to provide cable service through 2020, does not mandate a subsidized residential service.  It does, however, include an estimated $60 million worth of public benefits such as:

  • Creation of 40 public computing centers across the city to provide free broadband access to low-income communities
  • Free commercial-grade Internet service to all public libraries in Cablevision’s service area
  • Wi-Fi capabilities in 32 parks that includes 30 minutes per month free for all users with a 99 cent per day fee thereafter

Such shared facilities, however, rarely have the capacity to provide extended computer time to each patron, limiting their usefulness.

The NYC Connected Learning project is using over $20 million of federal money to provide computer training, desktop computers, educational software, and free broadband access for one year to more than 18,000 low-income sixth-graders and their families in 100 high-need public middle schools.   Non-profits like CFY and Per Scholas have a primary mission to bring technology to low-income individuals, while scores of other organizations and libraries provide at least some no-cost computer training.  And, of course, TechSoup connects qualified non-profits with technology information and deeply discounted software.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Generation Recession, redux

Our pre-Labor Day post focused on the impact of the current economic malaise on young people.  Now a new study by University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan sheds more light on just how much the youngest workers have suffered (bold added for emphasis):

Using data from the Census Bureau’s Household Survey via the National Bureau of Economic Research, I calculated the average hours worked by age for 2007 (people not working during the week of the survey count as zero hours worked) and then again for 2010. The chart below displays each age group’s percentage change from 2007 to 2010. For example, the chart shows that the average 16-year-old in 2010 worked 40 percent fewer hours than the average 16-year-old did in 2007.

But the chart also shows that labor losses lessen with age and are positive for a number of age groups. In percentage terms, work hours fell the most for teenagers, reflecting the high teenage unemployment rate. After the teenagers, work hours fell the most for the age groups 20 to 29. Work-hours losses for groups in their 30s and 40s ranged 5 to 11 percent. Work hours also fell for age groups 50 to 59, but typically less in percentage terms than for the age groups aged less than 50.

Fewer work hours translates into significant loss of income.  New census data indicates that the earnings of young people have taken the biggest hit of any age group in the downturn, falling over 15% between 2007 to 2010.

Reflecting these woes comes news that the number of Americans living below the poverty line has reached the highest level in the 52 years that the Census Bureau has been collecting information.  (Even these figures may underestimate the true extent of poverty in the US.)  The impact has been felt most by those at the bottom of the economic chain:

“We’re risking a new underclass,” said Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“Young, less-educated adults, mainly men, can’t support their children and form stable families because they are jobless,” he added.

But even the period of economic growth that came before the recession did little for the middle and bottom wage earners.

Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the period from 2001 to 2007 was the first recovery on record where the level of poverty was deeper, and median income of working-age people was lower, at the end than at the beginning.   

Tough times, indeed, for today's youth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How will Obama's American Jobs Act impact New York's Youth?

The American Jobs Act that President Obama introduced to Congress on September 8th incorporates a number of provisions that would directly impact New York's youth (PDF).  These include:
  • A $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will presumably create better learning environments and enhanced student performance in future years. New York will receive $2,020,000,000 in funding to support as many as 26,300 jobs.
  • $5 billion of investments for facilities modernization needs at community colleges, where much of the training for growing occupations takes place. New York could receive $235,300,000 in funding in the next fiscal year for its community colleges.
  • A new Pathways Back to Work Fund to provide hundreds of thousands of low-income youth and adults with opportunities to work and to achieve needed training in growth industries. Pathways Back to Work could place 7,900 adults and 31,600 youths in jobs in New York.

It remains to be seen, of course, how much of Obama's proposal will actually be enacted into law.   (Republicans reception so far has been chilly, and even some Democrats are worrying about the political impact of a large stimulus bill.)

For more information on the impact of the plan, see the official White House page and this Freakonomics quick take.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Raising educational standards: a PISA cake?

The results are in, and they aren't great.  According to the latest PISA exam -- a standardized test administered every three years to representative samples of 15-year-old students from 65 industrialized countries -- the US ranks 32nd in the world in math proficiency, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading comprehension.  (Not all states are created equal, though.  Massachusetts, for one, compares favorably with the top countries in both math and reading ability.)

The importance of these scores goes beyond just bragging rights.  Researchers have found that student performance on international tests like PISA closely reflects long-term economic growth.  Raising US math proficiency to the level of Canada or Korea could result in a $75 trillion increase in national income over the next 80 years.

There are no shortages of ideas on how to "fix" US education.  Below are just a few recent innovative proposals:

  • Most of the emerging, high paying jobs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field require a high level of numeracy.  Yet many students find the current rote approach to algebra, trigonometry and calculus dry and confusing.  With this in mind, two eminent mathematicians have called for a whole scale revision in how math is taught in US schools, substituting a “quantitative literacy” curriculum that focuses on real-life problems like finance, data gathering and interpretation, and basic engineering in place of abstract concepts.

  • Recent advances in neuroscience, cognitive science and educational psychology have shed light on how humans synthesize and retain information.  In short, the current approach to teaching -- covering one concept or block of information intensively; testing via quiz or exam to measure understanding; and then moving on to a new concept -- works against how the brain learns. Instead, returning to material multiple times over a semester (“spaced repetition”) and administering multiple tests of the same material (“retrieval practice”) to force the brain to call up information has been shown to drastically enhance long-term retention by 50 percent or more.  

  • Last year, the Freakonomics blog posed an intriguing question: "How Is a Bad Radio Station Like the Public School System?"  Using the analogy of Pandora, the online service that creates customized playlists for each of its millions of users, the authors profiled an innovative demonstration project set up within the New York City Dept. of Education that utilized technology to customize learning to each pupil's strengths, weaknesses and interests.  Throwing out the traditional classroom model of a single teacher instructing 20-30 (or more) children at a time, the "School of One" approach consists mainly of students working individually or in small groups on laptop computers to complete lessons in the form of quizzes, games and worksheets. Each student must take a quiz at the end of each day; the results are fed into a computer program to determine whether they will move on to a new topic the next day.  Multiple teachers monitor the progress, available to help or explain material when needed.  The Spring 2010 pilot program showed "that School of One students learned at a rate 50-60% higher than those in traditional classrooms.  The effects were positive for all subgroups, but most pronounced for the two lowest-performing quartiles of students."  (Curiously, there is little evidence that the introduction of technology into traditional classroom boosts student outcomes.)  The program has been so successful that its founder, Joel Rose, left the NYC public school system in March 2011 to launch an independent effort to take the School of One concept to scale.

Taken together, these and other reforms hold the promise making the classroom more relevant and enjoyable for students, more effective for teachers, and ultimately of creating the highly educated citizenry that America needs in order to compete in the 21st century. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Whither (Wither?) American Manufacturing

Is American manufacturing dying or thriving?  

In 1970, 30 percent of American workers spent their days in factories; today, that figure is 12 percent and dropping.  Many of the jobs that paid high wages to those with a high school diploma (or less) have disappeared, with workers scrambling to find lower paying work elsewhere.   Commentators and politicians routinely dismiss manufacturing as an important part of the economy. 

And yet the value of the products from the factories that remain is reaching record highs of nearly $2 trillion annually -- roughly equal to the output of China's factories.

So what's going on?

The plight of American manufacturing has been well told.  As the only industrialized country to emerge from World War II with its factories and infrastructure intact, the US reigned supreme for more than a quarter century as supplier to the world.  This dominance created the middle class and provided a standard of living that became the envy of the world.  Over time, however, European and Asian countries rebuilt, enacted policies to support key industries, adopted innovative production practices, and proved that they could make comparable -- and often superior -- products for less.  The emergence of China onto the international scene in the late 1980s offered a low wage workforce that proved irresistible for low skill manufacturing, while a succession of free trade agreements encouraged the shifting of production out of the US.  Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, industries that once anchored entire regions either disappeared (textiles, consumer electronics) or diminished (furniture, autos) in the face of international competition.

But outsourcing does not explain the whole story.

Technology has reshaped the face of manufacturing worldwide.  With much of the assembly line now automated, factories simply need far fewer workers than in the past.  No one is immune from the march of technology, even in low wage countries.  The Chinese company Foxconn, for example, employs over one million people to make electronics like the Apple iPhone and HP computers.  It recently announced plans to replace much of its labor force with more than a million robots over the next two years -- and this in a country where the average factory worker earns less than $1.50 per hour.

America has also been slow in enacting an official industrial policy.  European and Asian governments routinely subsidize and protect specific industries considered vital to their national interests.  While the Obama administration has been more proactive than most -- propping up the "Big Three" automakers in 2009 to save more than one million jobs, investing in solar power and advanced batteries for electric cars -- its efforts in manufacturing pale in comparison to the nearly $13 trillion bailout of the banking industry that has done little to create new jobs.

Why does it matter if manufacturing disappears?

  • In the 21st century's hyper-competitive marketplace, success increasingly depends on ability to innovate.  With the loss of factories, we also lose the process engineering facilities that rely on proximity to the assembly line.
  • As the Harvard Business Review has noted (PDF), the loss of factories in America has a multiplier effect.  The Amazon Kindle, for example, could not currently be made in the United States even if Amazon wanted to, as the manufacture of all of the component parts -- and related expertise -- has migrated to Asia.  Without a robust "industrial commons," American manufacturers are hampered in their ability to bring new products to market.
  • While technology has reduced the total number of workers needed in a factory, it has also created demand for highly trained workers who can operate and maintain precision machinery.  Manufacturing has been one of the few bright spots in the American economy recently, adding nearly 250,000 new jobs since 2009.  Many manufacturers in fact complain of unfilled openings due a shortage of applicants who are good at math, good with their hands and willing to work on a factory floor; the lack of skilled labor is expected to cost manufacturers billions of dollars over the next few years.
  • Because of the higher skills demanded in today's factories, workers with a high school diploma and some advanced training can earn solidly middle-class wages in manufacturing.  Few other sectors offer the same types of opportunities for high school graduates.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday's Resources: New youth practitioner guides from WPTI!

Welcome to a Tuesday edition of "Monday's Resources"!  We hope you enjoyed the long weekend.

Since our pre-Labor Day posting was a bit of a downer, we wanted to start the week with some valuable resources for anyone who prepares young people for the world of employment. 

Our friends at Workforce Professionals Training Institute have recently gathered many of the best practices from its exceptional professional development workshops into a series of free guides for youth workers. 


Friday, September 2, 2011

The rise of Generation Recession

As we prepare for the Labor Day weekend, it's worth remembering that many young people have little labor to celebrate this year.   

The Washington Post recently noted that "recession is the new normal" for millions Americans.  The average length of unemployment now tops 40 weeks -- the longest period ever recorded -- and more than a million job seekers have given up on looking for work entirely.  A record number of people exist on the fringes of the workforce: part-timers looking for more hours and the self-employed eager for more work.

The figures above include workers of all ages.  Unfortunately, the pain has been felt the most by young people.  Consider the following statistics:

  • Since the start of the downturn in 2007,  "Generation Recession" -- those born in the late 80s and 90s who came of age as the economy tanked -- has absorbed more than one-third of all job losses, making them the hardest hit age group.  
  • One-in-six young people who are actively seeking work cannot find any.  Many who do have jobs either work fewer hours than desired, or are in positions for which they are overqualified. 
  • More troubling, many have either given up (or never started) looking for work.  Over the past three years, the percentage of 16-24 year olds actually involved in the labor market has fallen to all-time record lows.  Less than half of young people currently hold a job, compared to over 60% of workers over 25.  
  • The numbers are especially grim for African-American (33%) and Latino (43%) youth.       

While those with little education have been hit the hardest, even young people with college degrees are finding the job market a tough nut to crack.  What's more, starting a career in the midst of a recession can have lifelong repercussions.  Studies have shown that workers who joined the labor force in poor economic times will be more risk-adverse in their approach to investment and business creation, and suffer, on average, a decrease in lifetime earnings of over $100,000 and higher risks for depression.

Let's hope that President Obama captures the urgency of this crisis in his upcoming address to Congress, and proposes ambitious solutions that can get American workers -- especially young people -- (back) to work again, so that we can have more to celebrate next Labor Day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to create a job

For all of the recent heated debate over stimulus spending, deficit reduction, taxes, etc., politicians of every stripe have hewed to the same underlying message: my approach will create the most jobs.  The next presidential election will almost certainly be decided by the public's perception of which candidate can do the most to turn the economy around.  But short of Keynesian-style mass hiring directly by the government -- a policy neither party has to date been willing to propose -- how do we get people back to work?

City Limits Magazine recently posed the question, "Can Job Training Reduce Unemployment?"  New York City spends more than $1 billion on a variety of job training programs and officials claim that they city puts 85,000 welfare recipients to work each year through the mandatory job search component of public assistance, and another 35,000 residents through the city-funded Workforce1 Career Center system.  But what does this really mean when the city is not creating enough jobs to keep up with population growth, let alone put the already jobless back to work?  In a time of mass unemployment, the article wonders, "are the training programs merely getting people jobs at the expense of other applicants, who end up taking their place on the unemployment line?"

If the quick placement model is merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, how could job training programs really create new opportunities?  From an economic perspective, a recession is the time to prepare the unemployed to for the high skilled jobs that are likely to emerge in the future.  Few programs, however, provide the type of intensive skills training that will benefit workers down the road.

Back in May, the radio program This American Life set out to discover whether politicians' rhetoric matched reality.  In an episode entitled How To Create A Job, the show asked some basic questions:

It seems like every politician has a plan for putting people back to work. But we and the Planet Money team couldn’t help but wonder…how do you create a job? Can politicians truly create many jobs? Is it possible the whole thing is just well-intentioned hot air?

The episode contains five sections, all of which are worth listening to.  For youth workers, the final story on the Pathstone workforce program in Rochester should not be missed.

  • Prologue.  Host Ira Glass talks to Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri on a press conference he held to announce the creation of just one job. (4 minutes)
  • Act One. Can the Government Move My Cheese?  Chana Joffe-Walt visits a governor who first became famous for promising his state he'd create jobs: Scott Walker of Wisconsin. (Yes, he's famous for some other things since.) Walker promised 250,000 new jobs and 10,000 new business in his state by the end of his first term. Chana tries to figure out how he's doing. And whether he can really take credit for the new jobs that've been created in Wisconsin. (19 minutes)
  • Act Two. This Story Might Be Recorded for Training and Quality Assurance.  In this terrible economy, we wanted to hear the sound of someone actually getting a job, and producer Lisa Pollak recorded it in the Holland Michigan office of Novo 1. On Tuesday of this week, Deborah Ozga was interviewing applicants for 15 new call center jobs. (7 minutes)
  • Act Three. Job Fairies.  For a look at the nuts and bolts of government job creation, This American Life Senior Producer Julie Snyder and Planet Money correspondent Adam Davidson attend a meeting of the International Economic Developers Council in San Diego. (15 minutes)
  • Act Four. Be Cool, Stay in School.  Unemployment is 9 percent, but it's worst among high school dropouts and people with only a high school education. Adam went to a place that's trying to help them find jobs: an organization called Pathstone, in Rochester, NY. (8 minutes)
The episode can be streamed for free from the show's website, or downloaded from iTunes or Amazon for $0.99.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

YOUTH POWER! New York City Regional Youth Forum next Monday, 8/29

An excellent opportunity to get disconnected young people involved in a positive movement next Monday, August 29th.

From the YOUTH POWER! website:

YOUTH POWER! is the New York State network of young people who have been labeled and are seeking change.  Together we have decided to speak up about our experiences because no one knows what it is like for us better than we do.  Through peer-to-peer mentoring, we empower young people to be active citizens, aware of government operations, their rights and the ability to use their voices to influence policies, practices, regulation and law.  We are young people helping other people, ensuring availability of self-help and peer support while changing systems so that young people get the support they need with the respect and dignity they deserve.

 For more information, check out the New York City Regional Youth Forum Facebook page.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday's Resources: Juvenile Justice

Periodically, JobsFirst NYC will highlight some of our favorite resources for youth workers in New York City.  Up this week: Juvenile Justice.

A criminal history can hamstring a young person's opportunities at employment, housing, and a host of other issues for decades to come.  Anyone who works with court-involved youth needs to understand how the court system functions, and the resources available to overcome the legal and social stigma of a criminal record.  Below are some of our favorites: 

1) Citizens Crime Commission of NYC, Guide to Juvenile Justice in New York City (PDF, 2010)  New York's juvenile justice system has reached a point of extreme crisis. With increasing frequency, reports of fundamental breakdowns throughout the system have come to the public's attention. The city and state governments have responded with substantial reform plans. In light of this increasing attention and the complexity of the juvenile justice system in New York, the Crime Commission has developed a Guide to Juvenile Justice in New York City to enhance the public's understanding of the City's juvenile justice policies.

2) Fund for Modern Courts, From Arrest to Appeal: A Guide to Criminal Cases in the New York State Courts (PDF, 2005) and A Guide to the New York State Family Court (PDF, 2005).  Written for the general public and helpful for anyone who assists court involved individuals, these two publications provide a comprehensive overview of the workings of the New York State court system.  Both contain a glossary of legal terms, while the Guide to Criminal Cases also includes an extremely handy listing of the most common charges and their corresponding penal law numbers. 

3) Workforce Professionals Training Institute, Getting the RAP Down: Employment Strategies for New Yorkers with Criminal Records (PDF, 2010).  They're out, they're in your program, now what?  Gathering insights from its popular "Getting the RAP Down" workshops and interviews with major players in the NYC reentry community, WPTI outlines the primary factors involved in successfully moving job seekers with criminal records into employment.  Developed by workforce practitioners for workforce practitioners, this detailed guide is full of concrete strategies for every step of the employment continuum.

4) Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force, Welcome Home! An Upper Manhattan Resource Guide for Reentrants and Their Families (PDF, 2010).  The UMRTF has compiled a comprehensive guide to New York City entities providing services for people exiting the criminal justice system.  The guide is broken down by the following categories:

  • Staying Stress-Free – Mental Health Services
  • Living a Sober Life – Substance Abuse Services
  • Finding a Job – Employment Services
  • Building Skills – Educational Services
  • Living Strong – Health and Wellness Services
  • Knowing Your Rights– Legal Services
  • Coming Home – Housing Services
  • Connecting with Loved Ones – Family Services
  • Presenting Your Best Self – Clothing Services
  • Getting Information and Guidance-One Stops & Referrals

Have questions about a specific legal situation?  Need to find legal representation for a young person?  Check out the organizations below.
5) Youth Represent ( is a holistic youth defense and advocacy non-profit organization that provides criminal and civil legal representation to youth age 24 and under who are involved in the criminal justice system or who are experiencing legal problems because of past involvement in the criminal justice system.  Founder Laurie Parise wrote the immensely useful guide for young people, Know Your Rights: Understanding Juvenile & Criminal Records and Their Impact on Employment in New York State (PDF, 2009).

6) Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) ( enhances access to justice for children and families by providing legal information, community education, and compassionate guidance within the New York family court system, while promoting system-wide reform of the courts and public agencies.  LIFT has prepared a number of useful publications for individuals navigating the family courts.   

7) LawHelp/NY ( is an on-line tool for helping low-income New Yorkers solve their legal problems.  The website provides information about free legal services throughout New York, about legal rights in a broad range of substantive areas, about the court system, and about related advocacy, government and social service organizations.

8) The Legal Action Center ( and the National H.I.R.E. Network ( are leading advocates and resource centers for issues relating to ending discrimination against people who have criminal histories.  LAC provides consulting on specific legal issues, and both sites contain a wealth of free publications.  

What cool resources have we overlooked?  Add them below in comments!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brooklyn Greens!

In keeping with our earlier post on the "white roofs" movement as a potential mass employment opportunity for low-skilled youth, City Limits Magazine is running a photo essay on Brooklyn Greens, a three-year, $750,000 initiative that will work to produce 480 energy efficient retrofitted homes, apartment buildings, facilities and small businesses, construct 130 units of new green residential housing, train 140 community residents in green-collar jobs, and plant 750 street trees and create or improve 12 neighborhood green spaces in Williamsburg, Bedford Stuyvesant and Cypress Hills.

A good start, but still just a drop in the (paint) bucket . . .

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Can we do more by doing less?

What if social service programs have the wrong approach? 

David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, recently reported on an innovative approach to lifting families out of poverty.  Rejecting the traditional focus on poor people’s needs and deficits -- which often ignores or stifles their innate strengths -- the Family Independence Initiative (FII) takes a different tact.  Rather than creating centralized programs that offer prescribed solutions to the poor (the liberal approach) or assuming that prosperity will eventually "trickle down" if the wealthy are rewarded for their success (the conservative approach), FII offers a "third alternative" that shifts the responsibility for finding solutions back to low-income communities while providing resources and opportunity to those who take initiative.

FII's approach is simple: identify families that have the capacity for change; offer tools to identify their goals; and provide cash payments for every success they document.  Crucially, it also brings together similar families for monthly support meetings.  FII does not set the agenda for the meetings, nor are FII staff allowed to take any part in the proceedings beyond being observers.  In the absence of external advice, the groups quickly become sounding boards and cheering squads to encourage members on toward their goals.  With goals, solutions, and encouragement generated organically, participants tend to become much more committed to seeing change through.  In its demonstration projects to date, FII has seen dramatic increases in family wealth and stability within short periods of time. 

(Similar "conditional cash transfer" programs have had significant impact on poverty in developing countries, although New York City's own experiment, called Opportunity NYC, saw mixed results in its three year trial.) 

Participant-driven programming is a key tenet of youth development principles, of course -- although one often more honored in the breach than in the observance.  Creating an environment that enables -- and indeed expects -- young people to take a central role in defining and supporting their own success and that of their peers, rewards them for measurable steps towards their goals, and continually seeks feedback about what works and doesn't work -- it all sounds like common sense, but is often missing from GED programs.

Can the approach outlined by FII work with disconnected youth?

Monday, August 15, 2011

If you can't stand the street, get into the kitchen

From CNN comes a report on New Orleans' Café Reconcile restaurant, which doubles as a job-training program that in ten years has prepared more than 600 young people to work in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in New Orleans.  Every 12 weeks, a new class is put through a “life skills” course where they learn interpersonal and work techniques, and then tackles the jobs of chefs, busboys, waiters, dishwashers and hosts.

(The New York City-based STREETS International runs an even more intensive "hands-on" restaurant-based training program for former street children in Vietnam.)

This article got us thinking about how New York City could benefit from more programs focused on preparing disconnected youth for the culinary industry.  Home to over 23,000 restaurants, the Big Apple is the epicurean capital of the United States and offers limitless opportunities in food service -- an industry that will frequently overlook a checkered past if the applicant has the right skills.  Although a number of organizations offer some culinary skills preparation, many will not accept individuals who do not currently have a high school diploma / GED, are not currently enrolled in school, or do not meet certain disability criteria.

If you know of culinary programs open to young people, especially those without a GED, please let us know in the comments below.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why don't politicans pay more attention to the youth employment crisis?

A good reminder from the always perceptive Ezra Klein of the inexorable link between money and influence in the US political system.

Pondering Washington's paralysis in the face of widespread and persistent unemployment -- 15 million people unemployed, and more than 20 million underemployed -- Klein's recent piece in the Washington Post looks at various explanations for the inaction of policy makers.  Ultimately, he muses, "I’m sure all of these theories are at least partially right. But they’re missing the big one that has the best evidence behind it: The unemployed don’t have very much money. And it’s money that gets the political system interested in your agenda."

Klein cites an analysis of 30 years of polling data that traced the connection between popular support for a policy change, and the likelihood that the change was actually put into place.  Not surprisingly, the study found that the preferences of the poor rarely motivate political action, whereas strong support for a proposal among the rich often led to its enactment.

Stuck at the bottom of today's labor ladder, unemployment hits poorly educated young people the hardest.  Given that disconnected young people in particular rarely contribute significant funds to political causes and vote in much lower numbers than other groups -- only around a quarter of eligible high school dropouts aged 18-24 voted during the 2008 presidential election -- politicians feel little pressure to address youth issues.  (It's a "chicken or egg" situation, of course.  With little discussion of their concerns, many young people see their participation in the political system a waste of time.) 

As Kline notes, "If 15 million college-educated professionals were unemployed right now, the political system would care."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Money, money, money -- how little is (barely) enough?

As we celebrate our country's Independence Day this week, we should take a moment to contemplate how much money a young person requires to really become independent -- no longer having to rely on friends for a place to sleep, on government food stamps to eat, on family for handouts.

The federal government defines the poverty line as the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs.  The table below indicates the official 2011 poverty line as calculated by the Federal Dept. of Health & Human Services.

2011 HHS Poverty Guidelines
in Family
48 Contiguous
States and D.C.
Alaska Hawaii
1 $10,890 $13,600 $12,540
2  14,710  18,380  16,930
3  18,530  23,160  21,320
4  22,350  27,940  25,710
5  26,170  32,720  30,100
6  29,990  37,500  34,490
7  33,810  42,280  38,880
8  37,630  47,060  43,270
For each additional
person, add
   3,820    4,780    4,390

SOURCE:  Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 13, January 20, 2011, pp. 3637-3638

Many researchers criticize the way the federal government calculates the poverty line, not least because it fails to differentiate between high- and low-cost regions.  While a single person might be able to survive in rural Arkansas on $10,890 per year, such a paltry sum does not go far in a place like New York City.  And a family of four living on $22,350?  Fugghedaboutit!

The Living Wage -- the geographically-adjusted amount of money a full-time worker would need to earn in order to pay basic living expenses in his or her specific area -- offers a more realistic measure of self-sufficiency.  The magnificent Living Wage Calculator at Pennsylvania State University combines statistics from multiple sources to create more nuanced numbers for virtually every community in the United States.  The Calculator shows how much a person would need to earn hourly depending on family size; a breakdown of living expenses; and average earnings in different types of jobs. (Even these figures may underestimate true costs.  The site notes that "the results a minimum cost threshold that serves as a benchmark, but only that.")

Below is the Living Wage Calculator results for Manhattan (New York County).  The Calculator provides separate figures for The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Few young people who lack basic education and training are likely to find themselves in jobs that pay enough to cover their basic bills, especially if they also have one or more children to support.  Given this bleak reality, it's no mystery why so many drop out of the labor market altogether rather than struggle for low-wage positions that leave them increasingly in the hole.

For youth practitioners, it's not enough simply to get a young person any job.  We must also show them the pathways (education, training, apprenticeships, etc.) by which they can move above the living wage threshold into true self-sufficiency, and then help them create a concrete plan to do so.  Otherwise, we risk simply setting them up for a life on the margins.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why aren't employers hiring?

The Great Recession officially ended two years ago this month.  Corporate profits are reaching record levels.  Yet the United States has seven million fewer jobs today than it did in 2007, and even under the best scenario might not get back to full employment levels until 2020.  What's going on?

The McKinsey Global Institute has some answers.  In An Economy That Works: Job Creation and America’s Future (June 2011), McKinsey found a number of structural challenges that make this recovery different from previous recessionary periods:

1) So-called "jobless recoveries" are becoming the norm.  From the end of WWII to the 1980s, the economy on average recovered its lost jobs within six months after the end of a recession.  According to McKinsey, "it took 15 months after the 1990–91 recession and 39 months after the 2001 recession. At the recent pace of job creation, it will take more than 60 months . . . for employment to recover" just the jobs that have been lost over the past several years.

2) Even as the economy struggles to replace lost jobs, the potential labor force continues to grow.  Under the best scenario, the economy will not be able to produce the 21 million new jobs required to provide work for everyone who wants a job until 2020.  "However, in the low-job-growth scenario, only 9.3 million net new jobs are added—implying continued levels of high unemployment. In our midrange scenario, about 17 million jobs would be created, with the unemployment rate remaining at nearly 7 percent in 2020."  Disconnected young people at the bottom of the labor pecking order will undoubtedly feel any shortage of jobs most acutely.

3) Under current trends, the United States will not have enough workers with the right education and training to fill the skill profiles of the jobs likely to be created.  As a result, companies that lay off workers are opting to invest in equipment rather than workers when demand picks up.  The New York Times recently noted that in the past two years "businesses’ spending on employees has grown 2 percent as equipment and software spending has swelled 26 percent, according to the Commerce Department."  One employer illustrated the challenges in hiring:

“I dread the process we have to go through when we want to bring somebody on,” he said.
“When we have a job posting these days, we get a flurry of résumés from people who aren’t qualified at all: people with misspellings on their résumés, who have never been in the industry and want a career move from real estate or something. It’s a huge distraction to sort through all those.”
Culling the résumés takes three days. Then he must make time to interview applicants, and spend $150 for each drug test.
Once a worker is hired, that person must complete a federally mandated safety program, which Vista pays an outside contractor a flat fee of $7,000 annually to handle. Finally, Vista’s best employees spend several months training the new hire, reducing their own productivity.
“You don’t have to train machines,” Mr. Mishek observes.

4) The bulk of job growth over the next 10 years will occur in just six sectors: health care, business services, leisure and hospitality, construction, manufacturing, and retail.  These sectors account for 66 percent of employment today, but up to 85 percent of new jobs created through the end of the decade.  To meet the demand for qualified workers, policy makers must do a better job in highlighting labor trends and pushing schools and colleges to better prepare young people for the emerging opportunities.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Smarter Welfare-to-Work Plans for Young People

The plight of undereducated young people in New York City's welfare system is finally getting some public attention. 

A New York Times editorial today calls on city officials to "do more to connect young adults on public assistance with educational programs that could help them succeed in the labor market."  Citing the Community Service Society's recent report, Missed Opportunity (June 2011, PDF), the Times notes that many young people applying for public assistance are given incorrect information about eligibility; forced into ineffective job search programs rather than the educational opportunities that they request and to which they are entitled under state law; or even pulled out of education programs in which they already participate.

The Times concludes that such practices are "alarming given that a fifth of nearly 900,000 New Yorkers between the ages of 17 and 24 are both unemployed and out of school. Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, has promised legislation to require the city to better screen young welfare applicants and direct them to appropriate services. That would be a good start."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How much could they have earned?

Dropping out of high school impacts a young person in many ways, not least in diminished earning potential.  The Alliance for Excellent Education recently analyzed the economies of 220 metropolitan statistical areas, all fifty states, and the District of Columbia to determine the economic benefits from improving high school graduation rates. 

In the New York City–Northern New Jersey–Long Island area alone (PDF), nearly 60,000 students dropped out from the Class of 2010; 26% of New York City area high school students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma.  Of the region's 692 high schools, 122 are considered among the nation’s lowest-performing high schools (i.e., schools where fewer than 60% of freshmen progress to their senior year on time).

The Alliance calculated that had half of these students (30,000) actually graduated with their class, the New York City region would likely accrue the following benefits:

  • $455 Million in increased earnings each year, compared to likely earnings without a high school diploma.
  • $329 Million in increased spending each year
  • $125 Million in additional investments each year
  • $995 Million in increased home sales by the midpoint of their careers
  • $48 Million in increased auto sales each year
  • 2,700 new jobs and $592 Million in additional economic growth
  • $57 Million in increased tax revenue in an average year
  • After earning a high school diploma, 44% of these new graduates would likely continue on to pursue some type of post-secondary education

A jobs plan that benefits everyone

Former president Bill Clinton recently took to the pages of Newsweek to offer 14 ways to get the economy moving.  Of greatest interest for disconnected young people is a "white roofs" initiative that can gear up quickly, requires little education and training, provides substantive work experience that can become the foundation for jobs in construction / remediation, will have positive environmental benefits for New York City, and could potentially pay for itself through fees charged to beneficiaries -- a win-win for everyone.  To quote Clinton's proposal:


Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)

Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.

While New York City has taken limited steps toward creating a pathway into the green sector, a much expanded program could potentially put thousands of young people to work for much of the year.  (To date, the laudable Brownfield WORKS! and Green City Force programs have touched just a tiny percentage of young people in need of immediate employment.)  The opportunity is tremendous: while 1,600 volunteers have painted over one million square feet of rooftops to date through the NYC Cool Roofs initiative, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability estimates that New York City contains more than 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops in total.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off

David Lionheart, economics columnist for The New York Times, has written a defense of college education.  He argues that "The evidence is overwhelming that college is a better investment for most graduates than in the past. A new study even shows that a bachelor’s degree pays off for jobs that don’t require one: secretaries, plumbers and cashiers. And, beyond money, education seems to make people happier and healthier." 

The path(s) to . . . somewhere

Long gone are the days when a college degree meant automatic entry into a full-time career.  The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University recently examined the employment experience of recent college graduates, and confirmed that young people who have had the misfortune to graduate from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 face a significantly more challenging job market than their peers who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession.  As the study (PDF) found, median starting salary for this recent group of graduates has dropped by 10% to $27,000; just half took jobs that required a four-year college degree; 3 in 10 said their first post-college job had them working below what they perceived as their skill level; around 25% reported that their first job was the beginning of what they hoped would be their career; and 62% believe they will need more formal education if they are to be successful in their chosen careers.

The New York Times today profiled a number of the nearly 2 million "mal-employed" recent graduates who are juggling lower-level, multiple jobs to survive.   

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Search for Summer Jobs

The teenage summer job -- an increasingly rare rite of passage.  This summer, only a quarter of young people aged 16-19 are expected to find work.   Just a decade ago, that figure was almost 50%.  To illustrate the challenges that young people face, The New York Times is running a series of vignettes about teenagers' experiences breaking into the labor market.