President Obama’s opportunity agenda – his belief that success should be determined by hard work and personal responsibility, not the circumstances of your birth – extends to every American. But perhaps no community more urgently needs a hand up on the ladder of opportunity than young men of color. That’s why the president announced a new initiative last week called My Brother’s Keeper, designed to give every young man of color who is willing to work hard the chance to live out his highest and best dreams.
Opportunity remains elusive for too many young men of color. If you’re African-American, for example, you have a 50-50 chance of growing up without a father. It’s a 1-in-4 chance if you’re Latino. Fatherless boys, as the president pointed out, are more likely to be poor and to struggle in school. Black students lag behind their white counterparts in reading proficiency. By high school, black and Latino kids are more likely to have disciplinary problems and to end up dropping out, with a better chance of ending up in the criminal justice system. These are unconscionable hurdles that we have an obligation to do everything in our power to address.
My Brother’s Keeper will do so by tapping the resources and expertise of foundations, philanthropists, faith leaders, businesses leaders and more. And it will use evidence-based strategies to evaluate which federal government programs are making progress toward our goal of empowering young men of color and which aren’t. Let’s identify what works and take it to scale.
At the Labor Department, we look forward to an active role in this initiative. We are already making strong investments in programs that can help young men of color acquire the skills they need to find work and unlock their potential.
Job Corps, for example, is an intensive residential, education and career technical training program for eligible at-risk youth, ages 16 to 24, with 125 centers nationwide. Last year, more than 70 percent of new enrollees were students of color. YouthBuild helps at-risk youth and high school dropouts obtain a high school diploma or GED credential and acquire occupational skill training that leads to employment. And through our Reintegration of Ex-Offenders grants, we support successful state and local programs that improve workforce outcomes for youth ex-offenders.
The barriers to opportunity facing young men of color are a moral outrage. As long as the odds remain dauntingly stacked against them, America’s basic bargain is undermined. We can’t give up on these young people. We don’t write people off or kick them to the curb in this country. We help them find pathways to success.
Speaking more pragmatically, this is an issue of national importance – because we all have a stake in the success of all of us. We’re talking about tomorrow’s leaders and tomorrow’s workforce. We don’t have any human capital to waste. We simply don’t have a person to spare.