Saturday, February 20, 2010


The Boston Globe ran a story Friday about how 700 teenagers marched on the State House this week to decry Governor Patrick's plan to cut funding for teen jobs.

The comment page exploded with cynical posts from self-proclaimed experts on the inner city and poverty. One commenter went so far as to deride the youths for being lazy and skipping school to organize and march -- it was school vacation week -- while the rest harped on the fact that it was out of line to link the lack of youth jobs with violence, equating it to a bunch of savages arguing that "if you don't give us jobs we will kill each other."

Sadly, in an editorial run today, the Boston Globe endorsed this view, arguing with the loonies that, "some of the protesters made a rather lurid connection between summer jobs and preventing violence, as if cutbacks in the summer jobs program would inexorably lead to violence."

The Globe was wrong to join the tenuous assumption that the youth were saying, "if you don't give us jobs, we are going to commit violence." They were not saying that at all. The connection they were making was based on hard evidence -- it is far from "lurid." What the teenagers were doing was telling the truth, ugly and shameful as it is. The teens should be applauded for having the courage to tell it.

In a previous post, I wrote that the last time we cut funding for youth jobs -- nearly by half in 2003 -- the number of homicides nearly doubled in the next two years, from 39 to 75. While other factors could have been at play, the connection here should be rather obvious by now.

Youth violence is all about money; it always has been. It always starts around hustling, because for decades young black men have applied to job after job (many the same entry level jobs the posters were criticizing them for being "above") and can't get hired, something I have also written at length about in my posts. And because a man has to eat, he ends up getting frustrated, giving up on legal employment and turning to illicit, underground sources of income.

And when you get your hustle on, whether it is stealing cars or selling drugs or whatever it is that you do to make a living, there are no laws to protect you. This means that in order to succeed at your occupation, you need turf, a bad reputation and associates for protection in order to maintain your source of income. And if everyone else is carrying guns to protect themselves, it makes it awfully dangerous for you not to.

What this means is that jobs, and specifically, the kind of youth jobs that the teens are talking about -- because they are guaranteed to the teenagers, and thus young people can't be denied from them time after time, a key difference that the posters and the Globe missed entirely -- are the precise antidote to the problem of youth violence. This is because they put money in the young person's pocket that temporarily eliminates the need to hustle in order to eat, and simultaneously gives them some job experience that they can hopefully parlay into another job.

Another key difference that the posters and our larger society conveniently overlook time after time is that when kids in the suburbs lose their jobs or can't find work, they often have cushion from destitution through relatives and connections. Conversely, young men in economically depressed neighborhoods have nothing cushioning them from homelessness and hunger. In the inner city, if you can't find work you still need to eat, and it is a very short distance to underground employment if the alternative is starving.

Not surprisingly, every young man I have ever worked with in Dorchester and Roxbury -- and every Boston Street Worker and youth worker I know will back this up -- has told me over and over again that if he could find a job that would pay him a living wage and allow him to feed him and his family and house them in an apartment and buy a T pass, we would never see him on the block again.

So again, I will say it: if you cut these youth jobs, you will see an increase in the need for underground employment, which invariably results in more violence and crime. This is not a lurid connection. It is the truth. And it always has been.

As long as the mainstream economy in our society has no place at the table for young black men and young men from other minority groups, this will not change.

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