Norman Lambert: Our politicians don't have a clue about jobs

May 23, 2014 

It's good to see that we have finally figured out how to stop the "school-to-prison pipeline." Kings County is now a statewide leader in the anti-truancy movement by simply jailing uncooperative parents.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris and other experts say reducing prison population could be as simple as keeping kids in school. Kings County District Attorney Greg Strickland says, "If I can keep kids in school I can keep them out of prison. ... They'll stay out of the system, get a job, and not be on welfare." Harris also has said, "If the child at the end of third grade is not reading at ... grade level ... they drop off (and) don't catch up." They are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

So putting parents in jail as punishment for their lack of proper parenting behavior will stop the flow of young brown and black males into prison in the future. That is the target population we're talking about here. Young brown and black-skinned males who are born in poverty, mostly to single mothers, themselves children when they gave birth.

Now the realities.

One of the reasons children don't read at grade level by the end of third grade is that they did not get an equal start with the rest of their classmates. For years, educators have been pushing for fully funded preschool programs to help get all children to the same learning threshold so they would be reading at grade level at the end of grade three.

But our elected officials find it much more expedient to spend way more money building and staffing prisons than spending far less upfront and saving a good part of that "lockup money" because fewer children would end up dropping out of high school and then going to prison.

Next assume that we retained all those young men of color, they graduated and went out looking for a job. In Kings County in April the unemployment rate was 13.1% — 7,600 people were looking for work. In Fresno County, the rate was 12.1% — 54,200 people looking for work. So new graduates, join the long lines of the unemployed, who by the way, probably have some experience, you have none.

How about construction work, a good field for a young man, right?

Well, in Fresno County construction added 900 jobs over last year in April, totaling 13,700, but that's way down from a high of 22,000 in April 2005.

So that leaves retail. Retail today is the home of the part-timer, the 20-hour week is pretty much standard. Minimum wage times 20 hours, pretty dim future.

So, if that was the future you faced, would you be motivated to stay in school? Why? You're not going to college, you don't have the money and your grades aren't good enough. A high school diploma nets you nothing but a place in the unemployment line. Young women of color can get jobs, for young men of color, it's a little more difficult. Ask a few of them.

Right now we're in the midst of the campaign season. Many politicians are yammering about how they're going to fight for jobs. Not a one of them has a clue about how to produce a decent job in our area, much less enough to make a real dent in our unemployment problem.

It looks like the pipeline plug has holes in it.

Norman Lambert of Fresno is retired and likes to cook, write and dabble in magic.

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