Meeting the Moment: The Intersection #BlackLivesMatter and Youth Workforce Development

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks have once again shone light on police violence against Black people and Black communities around the United States. This moment is familiar given the pattern of police brutality and misconduct toward Black communities, but new given the sense that the Overton window has opened in implementing and adopting the demands of #BlackLivesMatter groups. To meet the moment, the country’s workforce development system must be an integral partner in fostering this vision of racial justice.

A critical demand from local BlackLivesMatter and other racial justice groups is to defund the police. At its foundation, this means reallocating funding and responsibilities from the police to community services and other forms of public safety. Central components to this demand include that policymakers have carved out an outsized budget and role for the police, as well as the increasing militarization of the police force. A 2017 report by the Center for Popular Democracy noted that in localities across the country policing takes up between one-third and 60 percent of the annual budget. Today, police have increased their roles as first responders beyond the pursuit of criminals to include mediating mental health disputes, managing homelessness, and responding to classroom behavioral issues. Lastly, other city departments and services have strained and limited resources, while the police benefit from the Pentagon’s 1033 program enabling militarization of the police by making military equipment available to local law enforcement.

Reallocated funding from policing should be directed to other public services, such as education, mental health, and workforce development. A study from Communities United for Police Reform found that for every dollar given to the NYPD, only 12 cents went to youth and community development and only one cent to workforce development. Increasing the budgets of community programs and workforce development not only makes these programs more effective but signals a prioritization of healthy and stronger communities. After days of protests around the country, Mayor DeBlasio has recently stated he will shift resources from NYPD to youth initiatives. The New York State Comptroller has outlined a path to cut $1.1 billion from NYPD which would bring funding back to 2014 levels and invest it in vulnerable communities and vital services.

Investing in workforce development to grow the number of social workers, child advocates, doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists who can respond to crises without the need for gun-intervention would ultimately strengthen communities. Public safety can be expanded beyond the current understanding of policing. Violent crimes have fallen over the past decades; today 80 percent of arrests are for low-level offenses. Re-imagining public safety includes the addition of mental health response teams, social workers, violence interrupters, among others who are and can be better trained to do this work.

Another core demand focuses on economic justice. Specifically, an explicit focus on the building the economic stability, growth and development of Black people and their communities. An effective youth workforce development is intertwined in this goal to intentionally build out a better system and prevent the replication of the previous status quo. Roadmaps to achieve this work have been done before and exists today. The New Deal enabled a mobilization of government resources, such as the Federal Housing Administration that helped rebuild the White middle class at the exclusion the Blacks. In a reversal, proposals such as a Green New Deal have made an explicit focus on Blacks and other persons of color in economic and environmental justice to rethink ways in which the economy works. A federal jobs guarantee and workplace reforms that proactively dismantle racist practices are also steps to help achieve the future of economic justice envisioned by #BlackLivesMatter.

Paths to this work exist. In Baltimore, ABC commissioned a research study on what it would take to build out racial equity across Baltimore’s Workforce Ecosystem. It highlighted several findings including:

  • Grant funders and employers are more comfortable talking about economic justice and inclusion, which they perceive as more inclusive, than racial equity, which they perceive as potentially divisive;
  • Only a minority of workforce practitioners, funders and employers have implemented policies and practices intentionally designed to advance racial equity; and
  • While practitioners, program officers, and workplace managers express strong commitments to racial equity, few serve organizations that have made racial equity an explicit goal in their mission statements, strategic plans, or marketing materials.

Lastly, making economic justice a reality requires greater focus and policies around job quality. Despite record low unemployment prior to COVID-19, PolicyLink found that Black and Latinx populations were overrepresented in the non-essential jobs hit first and hardest by the economic downturn. As a field we will need to advocate, prepare youth for, and provide high quality jobs with living wages.

NYEC’s approach to our policy and practice work is rooted in this intersectional approach. Last year’s 40th Anniversary publication outlines an explicit roadmap for embedding racial. In 2019 we released Principles for Green Economy Legislation and Investment, in which our first principle is to “Prioritize opportunity youth, low-income youth, young adults of color”. Finally, and most recently, NYEC along with other national organizations called for a national transitional jobs program with an explicit focus on young adults of color to enter and retain employment. More is needed and I hope folks will join NYEC and include us in conversations, policy design and advocacy for workforce and demands of racial justice.