Bloomberg/Soros Millions for Futile Social Engineering

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently announced that New York City would spend nearly $130 million dollars over three years to help the city' 315,000 young blacks and Hispanics who are undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed. Bloomberg himself would pay $30 million, George Soros another $30 million with the city financing the balance.

The ambitious endeavor begins with job recruitment centers where many black and Hispanics live while receiving retraining from probation officers to cut recidivism rates. Also included are fatherhood classes and closer tracking of academic performance.  The outreach involves multiple city bureaucracies, will start in middle schools and include remedial math and literacy classes, plus $7.25 an hour internships.  The performance of these young men will also determine decisions about school closings, a powerful incentive for teachers and administrators. 

Meanwhile, the city's Probation Department would open five satellite probation offices in high-crime neighborhoods to provide vocational training plus yoga for anger management.  Nine hundred paid mentors (of similar troubled backgrounds) will serve as role models for those on probation, in addition to city-paid jobs to clean parks or paint community centers.  To top it all off, the city will try to reduce employment barriers by requesting managers not to ask about possible criminal records during the initial interview.

Nobody can deny that these 315,000 young African Americans and Hispanics deserve all the help they can get to find jobs and stay out of jail.  Nevertheless, this enterprise is an expensive exercise in desperation.  The $130 million could be better spent elsewhere.  Two obstacles stand out. First, the paucity of past successful interventions; and, second, an unwillingness to confront the culture that surrounds these young men.

Efforts to uplift young black and Hispanic men began with the Great Society in the mid-1960s and the track record is dismal. Every measure in today's repertoire has been tried before and, as today's grim statistics indicate, has failed. If role models, make-work municipal jobs, fatherhood training, convenient vocational training and all the rest performed as promised, today's version would be unnecessary. Just read Charles Murray's Losing Ground (published in 1984), and note that Murray's pessimistic conclusions have been repeatedly confirmed.  If Bloomberg, Soros and all their advisers possess some newly invented magic bullet cure, it is a well-kept secret.

Nor can the tribulations of these 315,000 youngsters be attributed to outside forces such as horrific economic conditions or racist discrimination. Millions of recent immigrants  -- including countless non-whites -- often began moving up the ladder with imperfect English skills, limited educations and unfamiliarity with our culture. This $130 million program does not target recent arrivals from the Caribbean (and Africa) for good reason -- many will on their own take advantage of the opportunities available to everyone, including these "under-served" youngsters (for example, see here).

A clue to why these youngsters require expensive help emerges if we note that much of it reflects recipient apathy -- they are receiving hand-outs, not opportunities.  Why else offer yet more remediation for basic math and reading skills?  What were these kids doing during school?  Why else put employment centers and vocational training facilities so nearby?  Are these youngsters physically incapable of travelling a bit to ensure a much better life?  Most, I suspect, would travel miles for a concert or movie.  Everything, absolutely everything will be provided top-down so as to minimize beneficiary effort.  No need to pound the pavement or put on a clean shirt when looking for work -- city jobs will just be handed out just like school lunches.  Even a criminal record is erased thanks to official intervention, a potent message for those tempted by crime.

And who will be punished if beneficiaries fail to utilize all the supplied assistance?  The people who supply it, that's who.  Teachers and bureaucrats, not the recipients, are now responsible for progress and as with No Child Left Behind test scores, we can anticipate cheating.  The entire program is a perfect recipe inculcating more dependency.

Nevertheless, tribulations run deeper but voicing them raises awkward issues.  Speak to any business person (and I owned and ran a business for 13 years) and all will agree that a key attribute of all employees is what might called "the work ethic."  This collection of traits is a pre-condition for a job and their absence makes a job applicant almost un-hirable.  These include reliability, punctuality, willingness to follow directions, diligence without direct supervision, amiability with fellow employees, courtesy with customers, honesty, and an ability to communicate clearly, a modicum of enthusiasm, avoiding confrontations, flexibility and having a suitable appearance for the job.  Such dispositions then facilitate on-the-job training.  Put negatively, no employer (save perhaps the government) will hire anyone, regardless of race, creed or national origin, who looks like a slob, always mumbles, arrives an hour late for the job interview, complains  about everything, and seems indifferent to working.

Here's the rub with this $130 million Bloomberg/Soros enterprise: it totally ignores this glaring "work ethic" weakness among today's troubled black and Hispanic youngsters.  Indeed, the emphasis on hand-outs and convenience reinforces this deficiency.  Ironically, reversing the killing-with-kindness is not especially difficult.  Just tell program participants that their vocation training will require taking a bus and a subway ride, classroom doors will be locked at exactly 9:00AM (no exceptions), a dress code will be enforced, and instructors must be addressed politely and in clear English, no profanity allowed and "graduates" will be responsible for finding their own jobs.  This "tough love" does not, of course, exclude ample help. If youngsters need assistance on how to dress for the workforce, or how to manage one's time, this can be provided, but only if requested. In a nutshell, replace the therapeutic/counseling approach with something that resembles military basic training.  

Sad to say, this tough love boot camp approach would be instantly condemned. Its predictable success rate would be low and in today's world, quantity always trumps quality.  Just look at the inadequate skills of many contemporary high school graduates.  What public figure wants to be associated with a program with a 20% success rate?  Forget about making comparisons with the NFL or NBA draft or any other arduous endeavor.

More devastating, however, will be the cries that a boot camp approach violates the "culture" of these youngsters and is "white" and therefore racist.  This rejoinder is patently false -- just ask millions of blacks and Hispanics who promptly show up for work, dress appropriately, speak decent English, and get along with co-workers.  There is nothing racist about imparting traditional working or middle class values regarding hard work.  Put another way, Bloomberg and Soros want to help under-class kids join the working or even middle class, but foolishly resist inflicting the necessary pain or "disrespecting" their dysfunctional culture.  Not only is this futile, but it yet one more time undermines the personal responsibility that is the ticket out of chronic unemployment and criminality.  

Bloomberg and Soros are free to spend their own money, but we hardly need another $70 million in public funds flushed down the toilet.

Robert Weissberg is professor of political science-emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana.  His latest book is Bad Students Not Bad Schools.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently announced that New York City would spend nearly $130 million dollars over three years to help the city' 315,000 young blacks and Hispanics who are undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed. Bloomberg himself would pay $30 million, George Soros another $30 million with the city financing the balance.

The ambitious endeavor begins with job recruitment centers where many black and Hispanics live while receiving retraining from probation officers to cut recidivism rates. Also included are fatherhood classes and closer tracking of academic performance.  The outreach involves multiple city bureaucracies, will start in middle schools and include remedial math and literacy classes, plus $7.25 an hour internships.  The performance of these young men will also determine decisions about school closings, a powerful incentive for teachers and administrators. 

Meanwhile, the city's Probation Department would open five satellite probation offices in high-crime neighborhoods to provide vocational training plus yoga for anger management.  Nine hundred paid mentors (of similar troubled backgrounds) will serve as role models for those on probation, in addition to city-paid jobs to clean parks or paint community centers.  To top it all off, the city will try to reduce employment barriers by requesting managers not to ask about possible criminal records during the initial interview.

Nobody can deny that these 315,000 young African Americans and Hispanics deserve all the help they can get to find jobs and stay out of jail.  Nevertheless, this enterprise is an expensive exercise in desperation.  The $130 million could be better spent elsewhere.  Two obstacles stand out. First, the paucity of past successful interventions; and, second, an unwillingness to confront the culture that surrounds these young men.

Efforts to uplift young black and Hispanic men began with the Great Society in the mid-1960s and the track record is dismal. Every measure in today's repertoire has been tried before and, as today's grim statistics indicate, has failed. If role models, make-work municipal jobs, fatherhood training, convenient vocational training and all the rest performed as promised, today's version would be unnecessary. Just read Charles Murray's Losing Ground (published in 1984), and note that Murray's pessimistic conclusions have been repeatedly confirmed.  If Bloomberg, Soros and all their advisers possess some newly invented magic bullet cure, it is a well-kept secret.

Nor can the tribulations of these 315,000 youngsters be attributed to outside forces such as horrific economic conditions or racist discrimination. Millions of recent immigrants  -- including countless non-whites -- often began moving up the ladder with imperfect English skills, limited educations and unfamiliarity with our culture. This $130 million program does not target recent arrivals from the Caribbean (and Africa) for good reason -- many will on their own take advantage of the opportunities available to everyone, including these "under-served" youngsters (for example, see here).

A clue to why these youngsters require expensive help emerges if we note that much of it reflects recipient apathy -- they are receiving hand-outs, not opportunities.  Why else offer yet more remediation for basic math and reading skills?  What were these kids doing during school?  Why else put employment centers and vocational training facilities so nearby?  Are these youngsters physically incapable of travelling a bit to ensure a much better life?  Most, I suspect, would travel miles for a concert or movie.  Everything, absolutely everything will be provided top-down so as to minimize beneficiary effort.  No need to pound the pavement or put on a clean shirt when looking for work -- city jobs will just be handed out just like school lunches.  Even a criminal record is erased thanks to official intervention, a potent message for those tempted by crime.

And who will be punished if beneficiaries fail to utilize all the supplied assistance?  The people who supply it, that's who.  Teachers and bureaucrats, not the recipients, are now responsible for progress and as with No Child Left Behind test scores, we can anticipate cheating.  The entire program is a perfect recipe inculcating more dependency.

Nevertheless, tribulations run deeper but voicing them raises awkward issues.  Speak to any business person (and I owned and ran a business for 13 years) and all will agree that a key attribute of all employees is what might called "the work ethic."  This collection of traits is a pre-condition for a job and their absence makes a job applicant almost un-hirable.  These include reliability, punctuality, willingness to follow directions, diligence without direct supervision, amiability with fellow employees, courtesy with customers, honesty, and an ability to communicate clearly, a modicum of enthusiasm, avoiding confrontations, flexibility and having a suitable appearance for the job.  Such dispositions then facilitate on-the-job training.  Put negatively, no employer (save perhaps the government) will hire anyone, regardless of race, creed or national origin, who looks like a slob, always mumbles, arrives an hour late for the job interview, complains  about everything, and seems indifferent to working.

Here's the rub with this $130 million Bloomberg/Soros enterprise: it totally ignores this glaring "work ethic" weakness among today's troubled black and Hispanic youngsters.  Indeed, the emphasis on hand-outs and convenience reinforces this deficiency.  Ironically, reversing the killing-with-kindness is not especially difficult.  Just tell program participants that their vocation training will require taking a bus and a subway ride, classroom doors will be locked at exactly 9:00AM (no exceptions), a dress code will be enforced, and instructors must be addressed politely and in clear English, no profanity allowed and "graduates" will be responsible for finding their own jobs.  This "tough love" does not, of course, exclude ample help. If youngsters need assistance on how to dress for the workforce, or how to manage one's time, this can be provided, but only if requested. In a nutshell, replace the therapeutic/counseling approach with something that resembles military basic training.  

Sad to say, this tough love boot camp approach would be instantly condemned. Its predictable success rate would be low and in today's world, quantity always trumps quality.  Just look at the inadequate skills of many contemporary high school graduates.  What public figure wants to be associated with a program with a 20% success rate?  Forget about making comparisons with the NFL or NBA draft or any other arduous endeavor.

More devastating, however, will be the cries that a boot camp approach violates the "culture" of these youngsters and is "white" and therefore racist.  This rejoinder is patently false -- just ask millions of blacks and Hispanics who promptly show up for work, dress appropriately, speak decent English, and get along with co-workers.  There is nothing racist about imparting traditional working or middle class values regarding hard work.  Put another way, Bloomberg and Soros want to help under-class kids join the working or even middle class, but foolishly resist inflicting the necessary pain or "disrespecting" their dysfunctional culture.  Not only is this futile, but it yet one more time undermines the personal responsibility that is the ticket out of chronic unemployment and criminality.  

Bloomberg and Soros are free to spend their own money, but we hardly need another $70 million in public funds flushed down the toilet.

Robert Weissberg is professor of political science-emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana.  His latest book is Bad Students Not Bad Schools.