TOPICS > Politics

Bloomberg Kicks Off New Effort to Empower Black, Latino Men

August 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $127 million, three-year plan to coordinate city agencies and efforts with a goal of reducing disparities between young black and Latino men and the rest of the population. Jeffrey Brown discusses the new program with Bloomberg, who will contribute $30 million of his own money.
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JEFFREY BROWN: “Blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom.”

That from a speech this morning by New York City Major Michael Bloomberg, who announced a $127 million, three-year plan to coordinate city agencies and efforts, with a goal of reducing disparities between young black and Latino men and the rest of the population.

Among much else, the city would create job recruitment centers in public housing projects, place new probation centers in high-risk areas to enable young men to stay closer to home, and, for the first time, the Department of Education would make the success of blacks and Latinos a part of school progress reports.

The mayor himself will contribute $30 million through his foundation, an amount being matched by financier George Soros. The rest comes from the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg joins us now from City Hall in New York.

And welcome to you.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) mayor of New York: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN: What exactly, first, is the problem, as you see it, and how serious is it?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, for a long time, people have said there’s nothing you can do about it.

But blacks and Latinos score terribly in school testing compared to whites and Asians. If you look at our jails, it’s predominantly minorities. If you look at where crime takes place, it’s in minority neighborhoods. If you look at who the victims and the perpetrators are, it’s virtually all minorities.

This is something that has gone on for a long time. I assume it’s prevalent elsewhere, but certainly true in New York City. And for many, many years, people said there was just nothing you can do about it. Now, what we have done in the last 10 years is we have cut the testing gap in schools for black and Latino kids vs. white and Asian kids in half, but they still are way behind.

We have tried to diversify our police department, so that it really does measure the — mirror the community’s ethnicity. And they have brought crime down dramatically. We have the lowest crime rate we have ever had in the history of the city. And that’s particularly important to black and Latino kids and their families and their neighborhoods, because that is where the crime is.

So they benefit from that. And we have done a number of these kinds of things, trying to attract the kind of jobs that are available to people who maybe don’t have a formal education, have dropped out of school, or don’t have great command of the English language, or have a blemish on their resume which would keep them from getting a job at a more traditional firm where they do an extensive background check.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: And so we have tried to attract industries that can use the people here who are unemployed.

But, nevertheless, there’s this enormous cohort of black and Latino males aged, let’s say, 16 to 25 that don’t have jobs, don’t have any prospects, don’t know how to find jobs, don’t know that the — what their skill sets are, don’t know how to behave in the workplace, where they have to work collaboratively and collectively.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me, if I — let me, if I — excuse me, but let me, if I could, ask you for a specific example, because you are saying all these things you have been doing have not been enough.

So I listed some of the examples. One key that you talk about in the jobs area is linking employers with young men who are or have been in prison. Now, how specifically — what will change? How will you go about convincing employers that these people should be employed?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, I think employers, if you can show them that these kids have paid their debt to society and have gotten some training afterwards, so they know how to fit into the workplace, there are jobs where they can participate, have the dignity of being self-sufficient, contribute to their employer, and get along with everybody else.

There are some jobs where, if you have a criminal record, you’re just not going to get. They are some public safety things where it just doesn’t fit. But there will be jobs if we can get these kids, get their families together, even if their fathers don’t live with their mothers or have never been married, or even maybe they’re in jail, get the fathers engaged.

A lot of statistics show that, if the father is engaged, it gives the kids some understanding that he’s heading down the wrong path. And then assign mentors to them on one-on-one basis, so that there is somebody who has been successful, has a job, has a family, fits into society, and that they can go to.

You know, a lot of these kids, it isn’t that they’re bad kids. It’s that once they made a mistake, it’s very difficult to recover from that. But we have an obligation to them, if not for compassionate reasons, just for selfish reasons.

Three-quarters of all kids in New York City that go to jail, serve a period and come out, go right back to the jail.

JEFFREY BROWN: But…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Three-quarters of them go back within a very short period of time.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We have just got to break that cycle.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, as you say, the aspiration, the goal has been there for a long time. You, yourself, have tried many things that don’t seem to — that don’t seem to have worked.

What has been — when you look back, when your staff and everybody was looking at all this, what have been the chief stumbling blocks, and how do you get past them this time?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, I think, number one, it’s not fair to say we haven’t made some progress, because there’s an awful lot of kids that we have helped. They have gotten through the most difficult periods in their lives. They are constructive members of society.

For all I know, one is going to be the next mayor of New York City. For all I know, one will win a Nobel Prize. We have made a difference. We haven’t made enough difference, and we haven’t reached out to as many kids as we think we could.

There are some simple things you can do. For example, if you want to apply for a job, they say, let me see some I.D.

A lot of our kids don’t have an I.D. They just don’t have any document that shows who they are. And so, if you apply for a federal or a state or a city program, or if you try to apply for a job, you just don’t have the documentation. You and I think everybody has an I.D. Of course, they would have an I.D. They must have a Social Security card. They must have a driver’s license, whatever.

These kids don’t have that. And so just getting them through that kind of stuff would make a difference.

JEFFREY BROWN: And can I ask you briefly, I mean, you obviously thought this was important enough to put a lot of your own money in through your foundation. Does it not…

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Does it not happen otherwise? Does it not get done otherwise?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, look, the reality of today’s economy is, nobody wants to pay more taxes. We can’t afford the services that we have gotten accustomed to. We are not likely to add more services in the immediate future. And so, if we want to do something now, we have got to do a public-private partnership.

The other thing is that private money is different than public money. It’s much smaller. For example, our school system costs us $22 billion a year to run. So, you can’t make a meaningful difference in our public school system with the amount of money we can raise in the private sector.

On the other hand, with private money, you can try new things that you can’t do with public money. Public money, you really have to be able to be reasonably assured that the programs, the things you do with it are going to work. You can’t take a gamble on something that’s off-the-wall that may have enormous payback, but has enormous risks with it.

With private money, you can do a demonstration project with exactly that, find out what works, and then, if it works, put it back into the system and let the public pay for it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mayor, before I let you go, I do have to ask you about the main story of the day, the dramatic drop in the stock market. Briefly, if you could, what do you see happening? And how concerned are you about the markets and the economy?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, I think we should be very concerned.

I have been saying all along during this fiasco try to — trying to come to an agreement on the deficit ceiling, the public has been watching the process and has come to believe that our government is not working. It is not one end of Pennsylvania Avenue or the other. It’s not one side of the aisle or the other.

They have watched the health care bill and financial reg bill and stimulus bills be done in the public eye for the first time, and it’s not a pretty picture. There’s the old joke, you never want to see how the law and sausage is made. Well, for the first time, the public has seen how the law is made, and it didn’t leave them with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

And they have a feeling that government is just piling regulations on that they don’t understand. Government is legislating things for their own self-interest that don’t make any sense. And they’re starting to really worry that America is losing its competitive edge. Jobs are going overseas because we can’t bring workers here.

The next best thing that is being invented is being invented overseas, not here. And they’re starting to say, wait a minute, I just watched government once again be so dysfunctional. The fact that they came up with a deal, whatever that means, for changing and for increasing the debt ceiling, everybody sees they didn’t do anything to balance the budget. They didn’t do anything to any of our long-term problems.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: They kicked the can down the road with probably fictitious savings way down the road and no new revenues. That’s not the ways to help this country get its act together.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thank you very much.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: You’re welcome.