Investing in Our Youths

08/05/2011 07:02 pm ET | Updated Oct 05, 2011

Now that we have managed to avert a catastrophic financial disaster and the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling has been raised, we have to concentrate on the untold crisis of youth unemployment. While the nation gained over 117,000 jobs in the past month, teenage unemployment rate is at a historic high of 25%. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recently taken the lead to make sure that we do not lose our talented youth to the hopelessness of unemployment. It's time to devote the same amount of energy we spent on raising the debt ceiling into investing in our youths to help America get back to work and become more competitive.

America can't succeed in the future when our children, especially minority youths, aren't given the tools and the chances necessary to thrive in today's global economy. Young people have been hit hardest in the current financial downturn and the minority communities are disproportionately affected: 39.2 % of black teenagers and 36.2% of Hispanic youth are unemployed. In New York City, black and Hispanic youths are twice as likely to drop out among their peers, have a poverty rate that is 50% higher than any other ethnicities, 60% higher unemployment, and make up more than 90% of young murder victims and perpetrators.

We have to keep our kids in school. A 2008 study from Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, a national anti-crime organization consisting of law enforcement personnel, found that 68% of prison inmates were high school drop outs. Drop outs are also 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates and more than eight times as likely to be incarcerated. The study also concluded that if high school graduation rates increased by 10%, 108 murders and 5,590 assaults would have been prevented in New York City alone.

Aside from crime related issues the economic crisis has exacerbated a rapidly expanding education gap in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15% of America's unemployed don't have a high school degree. The number reduces to 9.3% for those who have completed their high school education and down to 4.3% for people with bachelor's degrees. While the numbers are still higher for Blacks and Hispanics, both groups experience similar decreases in unemployment in relation to education level. It is unconscionable that we spend twice as much on incarcerating our youths than we do on educating them.

The Young Men's Initiative, a $130 million endeavor launched by Mayor Bloomberg, is an example of how we can provide our youth hope for a better future. The effort will provide an incentive for our black and Hispanic students to complete their education through paid internships and establish mentoring networks to offer guidance through difficult times. The program will also place job recruitment and training centers in lower socio-economic areas.

The Initiative also focuses reintegrating young offenders back into society. Currently, almost all of the black and Hispanic men who make up 84% of those incarcerated in New York City's prisons will not find work upon release. My Second Chance for Ex-Offenders bill combats the tragic cycle by giving first time, non-violent offenders a chance to clean their records provided they meet certain conditions. This is a proven investment: young repeat offenders were significantly reduced from 90% down to fewer than 10% in cases where ex-offenders entered into employment.

We need to get our children out of prisons. We need to educate them so they can find gainful employment and contribute to society. Joblessness leads to poverty which increases the risk for crime and violence. Among our young, homicide is the leading causes of death for blacks and the second leading cause of death for Hispanics. It is up to us to rescue our youths and provide them with hope and opportunity. Combating youth unemployment demands a long-term investment in our children's education which requires immediate action and patience.