‘We Have to Work Together ...’
Annie E. Casey Foundation Says Focus on Families and Jobs Just Makes Sense
By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
While there may be three Rs in education, policymakers looking to create more high-paying jobs in their states are looking at the two Es—education and economic development.
Patrice Cromwell, director of strategic initiatives for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said education and economic development are a natural fit with each other.
“When we think about what makes communities vibrant and a great place to live for families, one key aspect of that is a thriving economy,” she said. “When we think about what makes a thriving economy, it’s a workforce that is educated, skilled and tapping into next economy jobs.”
But after the loss of tens of thousands of jobs each month during the Great Recession, many young people are adrift.
“We have 6.5 million youth in the U.S. that are not in school or working in the 16-24 age group,” Cromwell said. “We need these partnerships that are cross sector. … With some beginnings of a rebound in the economy, there’s a great opportunity now for employers to come back to the table, to think about, ‘If I need certain skills today, how can I invest in the youth who will be my future workforce.’
“We have to work together. … No one agency or sector or employer can do it alone, to ensure we have youth and young adults who are strong and skilled workers who are building wealth for their family.”
These unattached youth—those without a job or enrolled in school—are projected to have huge costs to society due to decreased lifetime earnings and an increased need for social services. According to a 2012 report called “The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth,” commissioned by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the White House Council for Community Solutions, a 16-year-old without a job and not in school will create a lifetime taxpayer burden of more than $258,000.
The Casey Foundation has partnered with the Aspen Institute in 21 locations across the country to encourage collaboration among school systems, higher education, employers and social service agencies to reach out to young people ages 16-24 who are neither in high school nor employed and put them on a path to success.
Cromwell said all too often, it is hard for cross-sector work to happen. Federal funding streams for the various systems are often too restrictive.
“Instead of a young parent who is trying to get their associate degree trying to navigate, ‘What do I do about child care, how do I deal with transportation, which credits transfer,’ … they need support from agencies to ensure success around their careers,” Cromwell said. “Is there a way when parents walk into a community college program ready for enrollment, can they easily tap into public benefits that help them enroll and persist in college? … Our goal is to streamline some of these government regulations, as well as to increase flexibility, for young parents as well as adults to be successful.”
In Atlanta, the Casey Foundation also is involved in what is known as two-generation strategies, reaching out to both the parent and child. Leah Austin, deputy director for two-generations strategy in the Atlanta office, said the foundation works with two different organizations—one helps parents develop their skills to re-enter or advance in the workforce, while the other provides subsidies for the children to attend a high-quality child care.
Austin said once programs are working together, the next issue is how to define and measure success.
“How do you support these organizations in owning family outcomes?” she said. “Are there any outcomes there we’re seeing that are moving a family into a long-term impactful direction, versus just looking at each organization owning just their slice of the pie.”
Austin said legislators have an important role to play in the work the Casey Foundation is trying to advance.
“Essentially at the heart of the two-generation strategies are really what everyone needs,” she said. “Parents need to be able to go to work, go to a job where they have a decent wage, good benefits and know their children are in a safe place where they are being cared for and being taught. That’s across race, class and culture. I think legislators could help in lifting up that message and using that lens to think about what to do with certain policy decisions.”
Stephanie Flowers is a parent outreach specialist at the Atlanta Civic Site, the area of Atlanta where the foundation has been involved in its two-generations strategies. She started volunteering at the civic site 12 years ago and her son Marcus, who now is in second grade, benefited from the early child care program. Flowers would like policymakers to know one thing about the two-generations programs.
“I would want them to know about the impact it has on the whole family,” Flowers said. “Oftentimes, these families do not have a good support system outside of the schools. … They (the programs) support their work, what they’re doing and also give them recommendations to help them improve their family, their life skills and improve on the relationship they have with their family. It also leads them on the road to success.”
Read more about state workforce development initiatives in the March/April Capitol Ideas.