The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Monthly Archives: February 2012

1+1=1.2 Trillion

For years, Year Up has understood that the return on its investment in young adults was not purely measured by the incremental income that our graduates are able to earn and the taxes they will pay.  Surely, the avoidance of negative costs (social welfare, prisons, lost productivity, etc.) is also something we should include in answering the question, “What is the value of Year Up?”  However, much as we tried, we were not able to obtain accurate and convincing data to quantify the savings to society by enabling a “disconnected” young adult to gain access to a livable wage job and a post-secondary education.  We did not want to cite “soft” data that could be questioned, ultimately weakening the proof of our model.  We were content to rest purely on the external causality study conducted by Economic Mobility Corporation, which concluded that Year Up raises the wages of those who go through the program by 30% compared to control group.

Imagine the smiles across our faces at Year Up when we read the article in the Atlantic about the cost of jobless youth to taxpayers.  I almost ripped the cover page of the magazine trying to find the article in question.  The numbers are eye-popping!  Each jobless youth costs taxpayers $14,000 per year, costing us more than $437 billion over the next five years and $1.2 trillion over their lifetime.  Have a read through the article and the data – the claims are justifiable and coherent, and the implications are massive. In a time when we have to get our economy back on track and reduce the debt burden that exists in our nation, we can save ourselves half a trillion dollars, AND do something to reduce economic inequality. Sound too good to be true?  It isn’t.

The fact is that we will pay for rising numbers of disconnected young adults in our nation whether we like it or not.  The only question is how you want to invest your money. You can do it on the front end by providing people with access, opportunity and support to realize their potential and enable them to become taxpayers and productive citizens; or on the back end in lost taxes and productivity, higher social welfare costs and higher costs for the criminal justice system. The choice is ours to make, and it is a real choice.

David Brooks talks about this choice in his recent article about Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart, and ends by correctly encouraging the top 20% to spend some more time with the bottom 30%. Brooks is encouraging us to look ahead and to recognize that the current path down which we are going hurts our long-term economy, increases our level of inequality and reduces mobility.  Ultimately, it poses a threat to our civil society, and tears at the very fabric of our democracy.

The good news is that we can do better – putting our youth to work is better for our democracy and better for our economy.  One and one can equal three, and in this case it might just equal a trillion!

United We Stand, Opportunity Divided We Fall

Dominique Jones

There are many inspiring leaders of the Opportunity Movement, and I look forward to introducing more of them on this blog.  Today’s update comes from Dominique Jones, a recent graduate of the Year Up program.  Dominique graduated from Year Up Bay Area on Thursday and now works as a contractor for Salesforce.com.  Here’s what she has to say.

I was born in Oakland, California, a city with a rich history of both beauty and violence. Young people are often used as scapegoats for the crime-ridden parts of Oakland, while their potential goes unnoticed. Here, to the naked eye, a young man is only a hoodlum in a black hoodie, sagging jeans, and sneakers. He is a miscreant, unwilling to do his part to become an effective member of society. Who are these young men who decorate corners, breaking glass to match their broken spirits? They are the Opportunity Divide manifested in human beings.

What social elements created such a large group of talented young people who are so far from attaining the vision that they see for their lives? To me we are divided by the absence of three things: Empathy, Expectation, and Excellence.

In Oakland 2011, the murder rate rose for the first time in four years, the last three murders of the year being children under the age of five. This is a statistic, turned expectation that if left unattended, will become a scarier “E” word: epidemic. A lot of people expect Oakland to be violent, its inhabitants taking on its character. No one wants their city to have this reputation or to have the expectation of aggression tied to them because of their origins. It takes a certain awareness to be able to empathize with this. Subtly, armed with the tools of professionalism, young people refuse to leave this statistic unattended.

Year Up is a program that understands the social elements that create an environment for potential to be stifled and suffocated. Instead of giving young people a handout, Year Up asks us if we are willing to expect more out of our lives and helps us transform that expectation into excellence. The expectation of punctuality is transformed into the ability to be consistent. The expectation of professional language is transformed into the ability to speak and write eloquently. All that was needed was space and opportunity to allow our light to emerge from the dark places where we are told we aren’t enough and never will be.

My experience has been one where I was told that I was extremely gifted by teachers and counselors, but never offered advanced courses in high school. I had to seek them out. In college, I thrived academically and struggled financially, eventually having to drop out. I’ve always read voraciously, navigating the world as a student for life, but the doors to a bright future were always guarded by a looming figure of rejection that held me behind a red rope or red tape, depending on how you look at it. It may have been simple institutional bureaucracy or lack of expectation for a young, intelligent person from an urban background to thrive among students with different experiences. Either way, I could never get my name on the exclusive, four-year college guest list. I tried Year Up. It has worked for me. I’ve been able to sharpen my skills, earn an amazing internship at Salesforce.com, and prove that I can thrive in what Forbes called “the world’s most innovative company.” Me. Dominique. From Oakland.

Now ask yourself: what social element is created when such a large group of talented young people return to their neighborhoods, changed? That is an epidemic that I can stand behind.

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