“My Brother’s Keeper’s” Message to Poorer Youth: You’re Not Important

“My Brother’s Keeper’s” Message to Poorer Youth: You’re Not Important

March 26, 2014

In impoverished Richmond, California, population 110,000, the teenaged youth population has suffered scores of gun murders since 1995—as has Richmond’s middle-aged population. A few miles away, Marin County, with 250,000 people, has had ZERO teenaged youths murdered by guns since 1995.

What’s the strategy behind this fantastic “Marin miracle?” It’s called “a low youth poverty rate”—under 10%, the level older Americans and Western European teenagers take for granted.

Don’t force millions of young people to endure crushing poverty. That’s “what works.”

Now, imagine that a political leader proposed cutting the $600-billion Social Security budget by 90%, returning senior citizens to the 25%-in-poverty destitution of 1960, and substituting a “My Grandparents’ Keeper” initiative funded with a few hundred million dollars in private foundation funds (most earmarked for consultants and CEOs) along with lectures on the “personal responsibility” of aging Americans to make “good choices” to fund their retirements with their own savings. That leader would be excoriated left to right, and no longer in power.

Yet, that’s the situation, and the “solution,” proposed for America’s poorer children and youth. Across America, 7 million children and teenagers suffer utter destitution, another 9 million live in serious poverty, and 16 million more are in low-income households struggling just above poverty. The risks of poverty are staggering. In California as elsewhere, three-fourths of youthful violent crime arrests and 90% of teenage gun homicides occur in populations where youth poverty levels top 20%.

Given this White House’s emotional rhetoric deploring gun violence and young people, you’d think confronting youth poverty would be the highest priority. You’d be wrong. President Obama set a dismissive tone in launching the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to boost poorer young people out of poverty: “It doesn’t take all that much.”

“Not much” drastically overstates the Obama presidency’s commitment to America’s 32 million poorer children and youth. Not one federal dime is budgeted for the initiative.

Instead, My Brother’s Keeper will raise $7.5 million from 10 major foundations to pay “consultants and firms,” and perhaps $200 million in “private investments” over the next five years. This larger sum (if ever raised) is a whopping $1.25 per year per low-income youth.

What does government do to prevent poverty among important constituencies? It spends what’s necessary: for example, $650 billion on Social Security for the nation’s 43 million elderly in 2012, $15,000 per recipient. Government works! Poverty rates among senior citizens fell to a record low 9%, the best of any age.

What does government do when a population isn’t important? “Not much.” It spent just $31 billion on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2012 for poorer American children and youth—just $970 per young recipient—leaving 22% in poverty, the worst of any age. The morals of the government President Obama heads are expressed in a budget whose tax and benefits structure expends vastly more to support grandparents than grandkids.

My Brother’s Keeper is just a rehash of President Bill Clinton’s youth-targeted “personal responsibility” crusade (which Clinton also boasted “won’t cost much”) and cloned past initiatives relying on the usual consultants, volunteers, churches, programs, morals lectures, etc.—all vowing to “do what works,” all promising new breakthroughs from the same old failed model.

MBK foundations and interests would accomplish far more by uniting to tell presidents that private tokenism is woefully inadequate to make up for ongoing administration failures to forcefully redress youth poverty.

What young people need is a comprehensive government social insurance plan, prioritized as the president and liberals do for elder welfare. Including young people in social insurance, as every other Western nation does, would cost far less than Social Security but much more than now is spent on “temporary assistance.”

Sure, conservatives like Fox News’ and MBK celebrity Bill O’Reilly and much of Congress would rail against expanding public assistance for young people. But does President Obama want a legacy of not even trying?

Maybe so. When it comes to reducing unemployment among the young, the president pointlessly distanced himself from teenaged minimum-wage workers and signed legislation perpetuating arbitrary job discrimination against young employees. The First Lady stereotypes young people as drunken, accident-happy “knuckleheads.” The president misses no opportunity to label as the young as violent and prone to “mess up.”

Why this baseless, gratuitous name-calling and finger-pointing from a presidency that should be fostering introspection and integration? If any age is knuckleheaded, it’s Michelle Obama’s own self-destructive, drug-overdosing, gun-lethal middle-agers. This administration’s monumentally bad decisions regarding young people’s well-being disqualifies the Obamas from lecturing the Western world’s poorest, most abused youth to “make better decisions.”

But the shameful fact remains: Expanding direct social insurance payments is obviously, hugely in the best interests of young people—but does not serve the interests of interests claiming to “advocate for youth,” who profit from the indirect “consultants and firms” and remedial interventions My Brother’s Keeper funds. When will America evolve political and institutional leadership that recognizes young people as valued citizens meriting investment instead of dehumanized objects of stigma, neglect, and profit?