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Young men of color in trouble costs California billions of dollars
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — California must prioritize policies to address the plight of boys and young men of color who represent a fast-growing segment of the state's population, but a disproportionate share of prison inmates, school dropouts and the unemployed, an Assembly committee report released Wednesday said.

The draft report by the Select Subcommittee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color outlines 65 policy and legislative recommendations dealing in education, health, juvenile justice and employment to improve the prospects for young minority men.

"Doing nothing is not an option," said Sandre Swanson, the Oakland Democrat who heads the subcommittee. "Young men of color in trouble cost the state of California billions of dollars. There's a moral question to be addressed here, too."

The report, which was the culmination of a series of five hearings the subcommittee conducted around the state over the past year, termed the issue "a serious threat " to California's future success in light of statewide demographic trends.

An aging population, declining birth rates and growing number of minority residents will force California to increasingly rely on its young workforce as its economic mainstay, and about 71 percent of the state's under-25 population comprises black, Latino, Asian, Native American and Pacific Islanders.

Males in those groups tend to fare worse than other population segments, "trapped in a cycle of prison, poverty, and disadvantage," the 47-page report said. "Deteriorated schools and neighborhoods, poor health, dysfunctional social support and limited job opportunities hamper their progress ... improving opportunities for all young adults, particularly those of color, is a state imperative.'"

In California, more than 11 percent of Latino men aged 16 to 24 and 15 percent of black men were unemployed in June, as compared to 10.7 percent statewide. Both groups are also overrepresented in juvenile detention facilities — black youth comprise 30 percent of detainees but only 7 percent of the state's young residents, while Latinos account for 46 percent of the state's youth but 54 percent of juvenile detainees. Only about 55 percent of both groups graduate from high school.

"This is a future labor force that is not ready to compete, economically or socially," said Manuel Pastor, a University of Southern California professor of American studies and ethnicity.

The report comes at a time when the state is cutting back on social programs and education, but Swanson said addressing the needs of young minority men would save money in the long run.

He noted that the state spends $200,000 per year per juvenile inmate. "It's prioritizing how we spend the money," said Swanson, who will present the final report to the Assembly along with a request to form a state commission funded from a private source to monitor the issue. "We have to show the Legislature we have to make an initial investment, track it, and double-down where we find the savings."

Many of the subcommittee's recommendations involve policy changes, rather than programs. One suggestion is to rejigger the school funding formula so districts dealing with high rates of poverty, English learners and transportation get more money.

Another proposal involves allowing funds destined for tutoring to 11th and 12th graders in danger of failing the high school exit exam to be used in middle schools so students get remedial help sooner.

But the report acknowledges that schools need more funding overall.

Continuation schools, which cater to dropouts or those who have trouble in regular schools, should be expanded to a full-day of instruction from a half-day, vocational programs should be incorporated into high schools, and more schools need dropout recovery programs, the report said.

The committee also wants to see more "full service community schools" that have clinics offering medical and mental health services, social services, family literacy and other programs.

"These students get less of everything that we know makes children succeed," said Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary of civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education, who is scheduled to appear at the final subcommittee hearing in Sacramento on Wednesday. "The achievement and opportunity gap reveals a startling problem and crisis for our country."

While job training is likely to be the most expensive component of the plan, the report said state policymakers can help to dismantle barriers to jobs for minority youth.

The Legislature should prohibit employers from conducting criminal background checks as part of initial applications, only inquiring after their qualifications have been verified, in order to give ex-offenders more of a chance, the report said.

The state should also push public agencies to hire more young men of color, and provide incentives to private employers, the report said. "It's a tough fiscal climate but the state can do things," Pastor said.

Ali said she is encouraged that more attention being paid to the issue across the country. "It's getting traction," she said.