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Thread: Fighting Poverty

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    Default Fighting Poverty

    July 17, 2006
    The Mayor Focuses on Poverty, and a Panel Is Ready to Help
    By DIANE CARDWELL

    It is a group drawn from the upper echelons of New York City’s business, nonprofit, academic and social services sectors, with Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner, and Geoffrey Canada, who runs one of the most acclaimed antipoverty programs in the country, at its helm.

    For the last four months, the group has been focused on solving a perplexing riddle: the problem of rising poverty in a city as wealthy as New York. They have analyzed data about who is poor in the city and why. They have sought the advice of business and labor leaders. They have made field trips to places like Rikers Island and job and social service centers in the Bronx and Brooklyn to talk to people about their economic challenges. Some members have even traveled to England for a firsthand look at that country’s efforts to reduce poverty.

    Their conclusions are expected to form the basis of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plans to attack chronic poverty in New York during his second term, much as he sought to overhaul the school system during his first. To that end, the mayor has put nearly all of his agencies on notice that they must be part of the effort as the group, the Commission on Economic Opportunity, is completing its work to present to him.

    Although the specific recommendations will not be complete for several weeks, the thinking behind them has narrowed to a central notion: the solution to poverty is employment. But in a twist on the welfare-to-work policies of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the group has agreed that the government must use more of its resources to foster conditions that allow people to enter the work force and stay in it.

    To achieve that goal, the commission has been looking at ways to increase access to child care so parents can hold on to their jobs. It has also been devising ways to use city resources to tailor training programs to an ever-changing job market, and to focus public schools on preparing students not only for college, but also for the workplace. The approach departs from the welfare-based strategies of previous generations, but emphasizes government’s role in making employment worthwhile for the poor.

    “It’s not about pumping public benefits into households in order that they can have disposable income,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, who is overseeing the commission. Rather, she said, the focus is “what can we do to direct investments in poor households in a way that improves their earning capacity.”

    The administration hopes the panel’s findings will help shift the focus and function of the city government and realize the mayor’s vision of attacking poverty as a central element of his legacy.

    “I really believe that getting a good education is at the heart of any solution to poverty,” Mr. Bloomberg said last month at a conference organized by the commission. “If you fix the school system, that may not solve all the problems of fixing poverty,” he continued, “but it is one of those necessary if not sufficient conditions to really make progress.”

    The effort is not without minefields. Mr. Bloomberg has charged the commission with finding ways to diminish or eradicate poverty without significantly increasing the size or cost of government. At the same time, there is a strong sense in the administration and on the commission that government must play a far more aggressive role in giving people the tools and support they need to work, much of which has a cost.

    “There is a recognition that not everyone can go out there and compete equally, and that we have to use our resources and agencies and policies and programs in a way that gives people the best shot at gaining employment,” Ms. Gibbs said. One way to do that, she said, is to make sure that agencies work together as much as possible, strengthening their individual programs by bringing them together and sharing money.

    But another is finding ways to ensure that no one is penalized for taking a job.

    Mr. Canada said that under the current system, employment does not necessarily make people better off economically. “You might start working, lose a subsidy and end up with less cash than when you weren’t working,” he said. “It’s got to be better for folks to have jobs.”

    Since many of those subsidies come from the federal government, commission members are weighing how the city could step in and make up the difference, and how to present an argument that would gain the mayor’s approval.

    “The city is going to have to invest some money in an area that’s going to make a difference,” Mr. Canada said, adding that he was speaking for himself and not the commission. “When it comes to the kinds of investments that you need to make, if in the end we can’t show poor people that working pays, it’s going to be hard to lift folks out of poverty.”

    Mr. Bloomberg’s critics have said that his approach to poverty during the first term was at best indirect, as officials pursued economic development, housing and education as priorities. But soon after winning re-election, Mr. Bloomberg challenged his commissioners to think boldly about setting new goals.

    Ms. Gibbs, who was then the commissioner of homeless services, took up the charge and began talking with other city commissioners, including those at the Departments of Health, Housing Preservation and Development, Probation, and Correction, about how all of their agencies could work together to better help poor families. Out of that process, which included her discussions with Mr. Bloomberg about creating the new deputy mayor slot that eventually became hers, came the commission.

    The commission members see their mission as far-reaching.

    “There’s genuine involvement across a lot of agency boundaries, and people are energized in a way I’ve certainly never seen before,” said John H. Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University Graduate Center and an adviser to the commission. He added that even the attempt to attack poverty in such a comprehensive fashion felt fresh.

    “Just the idea that we should face poverty and inequality as a municipal challenge hasn’t been said since the War on Poverty,” Mr. Mollenkopf said. “There’s a realization that most social services are not designed to cure poverty but to help people cope with its consequences.”

    In trying to find that cure, Ms. Gibbs has pulled together a high-profile panel. There are wealthy civic leaders like William C. Rudin, a real estate executive who is chairman of the Association for a Better New York, and Merryl H. Tisch, co-chairwoman of a State Board of Regents committee and an officer of the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty and the UJA Federation of New York.

    There are former City Hall officials, like Stanley Brezenoff, who served in the Koch administration and is now president and chief executive of Continuum Health Partners, a group of hospitals, and Ester R. Fuchs, a professor of public affairs and political science at Columbia University who was a special adviser to Mr. Bloomberg in his first term.

    And then there are community advocates and service providers, like Mr. Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, a widely emulated nonprofit organization that provides a network of educational, employment, housing and counseling services to families living within a 60-block area of Upper Manhattan.

    Over the next few weeks, commission officials said, Ms. Gibbs’s staff plans to analyze the costs and likely outcomes of an enormous list of recommendations with an eye toward picking a first round to pursue.

    “No one is taking the summer off,” Mr. Canada said.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Education is key.

    Also, things liek subsidized child care is also important, but we have to be careful not to make it seem like the city's responsibility to take care of teh family.

    As we have seen in education at all civil levels, once that happens, the parents blame the system for failure rather than trying to pick up the slack themselves.

    I think they also hit the mark when talking about the gap between state sponsorship and self sufficiency in that there is NO motivation to take a job that makes you work harder only to be rewarded with less money for your efforts.

    We don't pay our kids less money when they start mowing the lawn, why should we have the same sort of thing going once these people try to take on some responsibility for themselves?

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Census Figures Show Scant Improvement in City Poverty Rate





    By SAM ROBERTS
    August 30, 2006

    Despite New York City’s economic rebound from 9/11 and the national recession, the proportion of city residents who live below the federal poverty level — about one in five — has not budged in the last five years, according to census figures released yesterday.

    The stagnant poverty rate, coming at a time of relative prosperity, suggests that wealth has not trickled down to the city’s poorest, and has raised concerns among experts and policy makers, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has singled out reducing poverty as a goal of his second term. By one measure, poverty dipped slightly from 2004 to 2005, but Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that the decline was “statistically not significant.”

    The new data on income and employment were collected separately, in the Current Population Survey and the new American Community Survey, and the Census Bureau cautioned against extended comparisons and analyses with surveys from earlier years. That left even more latitude than usual for interpretation and ambiguity.

    The census statistics also show that New York is the only state in which both the median household income and the poverty rate surpassed the national average last year, an anomaly that suggested growing inequality in some categories and reflected vast disparities within the metropolitan area itself.

    Once again, Manhattan recorded the biggest income gap of any county in the country, although the chasm narrowed slightly since 2000. The top fifth of earners reported making $330,244 — about 41 times more than the $8,019 of the bottom fifth.

    Among the nation’s largest counties, Somerset in New Jersey ranked fourth in median household income ($88,532), and Morris, Nassau, Rockland and Suffolk were all among the top 10. The Bronx was third-lowest ($29,228) and remained the poorest urban county in the country. More than half of Bronx households headed by a woman and including young children live below the poverty level.

    No city in metropolitan New York made the nation’s top 10 in median income, but several were among its poorest. Newark, at $30,711, ranked seventh from the bottom, just below New Orleans, among the biggest cities. Buffalo was third from the bottom. Among America’s smaller cities, Camden, N.J., at $18,007, had the lowest median income in the nation and the highest proportion of poor people — 44 percent.

    At the same time, New Jersey’s median income was again the highest of any state’s. Maryland edged Connecticut for second place. New York ranked 15th.

    Since 2000, median income has declined in all three states. Only two counties in the metropolitan area — Cape May in New Jersey and Sullivan in New York — recorded significant gains. Across the country, only two states recorded significant gains.

    In 2005, according to the American Community Survey, the poverty rate was 13.8 percent in New York State, 8.3 percent in Connecticut and 8.7 percent in New Jersey. In the city, the overall poverty rate remained at just over 19 percent, but compared with a year earlier, it appeared to have increased among the elderly and decreased among children younger than 18. In Queens, poverty rates declined.

    Statewide, New York ranked 17th in the share of children who are poor (more than 19 percent), and was tied with Texas for 8th in the share of elderly who are poor (nearly 13 percent).

    In New York City, median household income — the middle number on the scale — remained about the same since 2004, at $43,434. But the mean, or average, income rose, suggesting greater gains among the well-to-do. Manhattanites recorded the biggest income gains. About 5 percent of households in the city reported incomes of $200,000 or more; 13 percent reported making less than $10,000.

    “With median income in New York City you have to be careful,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group. “We’ve been seeing big income gains in a few very wealthy industries, and a few studies have suggested that the gains are not coursing through the entire city economy.”

    Given the steady influx of poor immigrants, he expressed surprise that the poverty rate was unchanged.

    “The city has been a fairly good place for the foreign-born to come and improve their fortunes,” Mr. Malanga said. Mark Levitan, senior policy analyst for the Community Service Society, a liberal research and advocacy group, said the new figures were “telling us that we have growing inequality — income is rising in the middle of the distribution, but it’s not trickling down. We’ve gone from a jobless recovery to a recovery where wage increases can’t match the rate of inflation.”

    Mining the Current Population Survey, Dr. Levitan said he found that the poverty rate among households with children headed by a woman, which had declined from 56 percent a decade ago to 39 percent in 2001, had risen again to 49 percent — an increase not evident from the American Community Survey figures.

    What he could conclude with absolute certainty, he said, was that the poverty rate is “stagnant overall.”

    Trudi Renwick, senior economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal watchdog group, agreed. “It’s flat, or down only very slightly in the city, despite tremendous economic growth,” she said.

    “We have a picture — and you can place all kinds of value judgments on it — of stability with a lot of these numbers,” said Joseph J. Salvo, director of the Department of City Planning’s population division. “That can be seen as encouraging, and discouraging.”

    Yesterday’s release of the American Community Survey, an annual version of the census long-form questionnaire, also plumbed employment patterns.

    It found that in New York, women earned 79.4 percent of what men did, above the national average and slightly higher than in New Jersey and Connecticut.

    New York is tied with Colorado for first in the highest proportion of people working in the information industry (3.5 percent). Connecticut ranks first in the proportion of people in management, business and finance (16.3 percent).

    Sewell Chan contributed reporting for this article.


    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  4. #4

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    September 19, 2006
    To Fight Poverty, Bloomberg Plans Tax Credits and Rewards
    By DIANE CARDWELL

    In an effort to reduce the city’s high poverty rate, the Bloomberg administration plans to offer tax credits to impoverished families to offset child care costs and cash rewards to encourage poor people to stay in school and receive preventive medical care.

    The tax credits, which would be worth up to $1,000 per child and would need approval from the City Council and the State Legislature, and cash payments would be unique among cities in the United States, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday in announcing the programs.

    In a novel effort, the city plans to raise at least $24 million from the private sector to underwrite those rewards, said Linda I. Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services.

    The mayor announced the plans as part of his response to the recommendations of his Commission on Economic Opportunity, which he convened this year to examine ways to help the roughly 1.5 million New Yorkers who live below the federal poverty level. For a parent with two children, that threshold was $15,735 last year.

    The commission’s members were drawn from the upper echelons of the city’s business, nonprofit, academic and social services sectors — with Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner, and Geoffrey Canada, who runs one of the most acclaimed antipoverty programs in the country, at its helm. In putting together the recommendations, its leaders traveled to the city’s poorest areas and even overseas to determine what strategies might be most successful.

    In keeping with the administration’s emphasis on practical, measurable solutions to civic problems, the commission focused on the working poor, children younger than 6 and young adults, and it recommended creating a system to track progress. In all, those three groups amount to about 700,000 New Yorkers, officials said, slightly less than half of the number of city residents who live in poverty.

    Working under the notion that the best antipoverty strategy is a job, the commission also recommended expanding programs aimed at preparing students for college and giving high school students and adults work experience and job training. It also suggested better coordination among agencies to help people get benefits and services, thereby enabling them to seek and hold on to jobs.

    As if anticipating criticism that after an enormous investigation and analysis process that engaged hundreds of experts and poor New Yorkers, the commission’s final report was neither bold nor far-reaching enough, Mr. Bloomberg defended the narrowed focus.

    “What we’re trying to do is to identify groups here that we believe we know how to help, focus our resources, demand accountability, try things,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “How many people we can help, how much we can improve society, we don’t know. All we know is if we don’t start we will never make any progress.”

    Saying that he endorsed the commission’s recommendations enthusiastically, Mr. Bloomberg charged his agencies with developing plans within 60 days.

    Administration officials offered few specifics about their new programs, which they said they were still designing.

    The payments could range anywhere from $50 to $1,500, officials said, and could be used to reward a range of actions, from scoring well on standardized tests to enrollment in service learning programs, which would funnel high school students into community service work. Officials are also weighing using the approach to spur enrollment in the Nurse-Family Partnership, a home visitation program that focuses on low-income first-time parents.

    City officials said that they did not know of another such cash incentive program in the United States, but that the approach has had success in Mexico and has been used in several other countries. Still, it is in keeping with Mr. Bloomberg’s approach of engaging the private sector to encourage certain behavior with financial rewards, as he did with a program that offered shopping and dining discounts to protesters who remained peaceful during the Republican National Convention.

    The child care tax credit, which would be available to families earning $30,000 or less who use accredited child care services for children younger than 3, would cost about $42 million, city officials said. The plan is most likely to get a sympathetic hearing in the City Council, which has called for such a credit in the past.

    Mr. Bloomberg said that the city would create and expand college preparation programs like the collaboration with the City University of New York that allows high school students to take college courses. He also said that the city would create a program at its public hospitals to recruit home health care aides and subsidize their training to become nurses.

    Reaction to the report was tempered, with advocates and officials praising the mayor’s focus on the issue but raising concerns about the lack of specific proposals.

    Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said he was disappointed that the report did not offer “particular strategies to address city policies that continue to increase hunger.”

    Members of Community Voices Heard, an antipoverty group that advised the commission, worried that the focus on specific populations would ignore the problems of others, like the unemployed.

    “When we actually see the action plans from the agencies,” said Sandra Killett, co-chairwoman of the board of directors, “then we will better be able to assess what the real benefits to people in poverty will be.”

    And City Councilman Bill de Blasio, chairman of the General Welfare Committee, said that Mr. Bloomberg was not vigorous enough in pressuring the private sector to raise wages or the state and federal governments to subsidize programs.

    “I don’t feel that he’s holding the federal government and state government and private sector to the same standard that he’s holding himself,” Mr. de Blasio said.

    The City Council has scheduled a hearing on the report for Thursday.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  5. #5

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    December 19, 2006
    Bloomberg Plans New Office to Help New York’s Poor
    By DIANE CARDWELL

    The city is planning to spend an extra $150 million a year in public and private money on the core priority of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s second term: combating poverty that is hidden beneath New York’s vast wealth.

    The effort would involve the creation of a new city office that would operate in part like a philanthropic foundation and in part like a venture capital company. The program, called the Center for Economic Opportunity, would administer a $100 million fund to support experimental programs, like giving cash rewards to encourage poor people to stay in school or receive preventive medical care, or matching their monthly bank deposits to foster greater savings.

    The office would also oversee a program giving tax credits to impoverished families to offset child care costs. Programs are to be constantly evaluated, and those that cannot show success will be terminated. The administration has hired Veronica M. White, a business planning and management consultant who has worked in housing development.

    The effort is classic Bloomberg in that it emphasizes nontraditional solutions and enlists the private sector to tackle problems that have historically vexed governments. Mr. Bloomberg has turned to fellow philanthropists to help improve the schools, to finance a Republican national convention in New York and now to build a ground zero memorial. But yesterday’s announcement represents the fruit of his efforts to fight poverty in his second and last term as mayor.

    “When you do things with public money, you really are required to do things that have some proven track record and to focus on more conventional approaches,” Mr. Bloomberg said in making the announcement at a credit union on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “But conventional approaches, as we know, have kept us in this vicious cycle of too many people not being able to work themselves out of poverty even though they’re doing everything that we’ve asked them to do.”

    The administration’s efforts would place an emphasis on rewarding good behavior and promoting self-sufficiency. Officials plan to spend $42 million annually on the tax credit, $25 million to reward actions like attending schools or prenatal education classes, and $11 million to help poor adults save money and learn sound financial practices.

    The new plan calls for the office to spend $5 million a year on measuring progress, and $71 million on about 30 programs that administration officials say they are developing but declined to announce.

    In an approach that has become a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration, the new office is intended to work across all agencies. But the center could also serve as a way of continuing Mr. Bloomberg’s agenda after his term ends.

    This year, he charged a high-profile panel drawn from business, nonprofit and philanthropic circles with devising solutions to fighting poverty that did not cost additional money. But after the panel released its recommendations in September, officials in the administration were able to make the case that creating the new office would help build both the internal institutions and external demand that would allow it to survive a new administration.

    The child care tax credit proposal, which needs state approval, is working its way through the legislative process, said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor overseeing the antipoverty effort. And officials have begun raising money to pay for the incentive program, an approach called conditional cash transfers that have had success in other countries.

    The effort to teach the poor about financial management would operate out of the Department of Consumer Affairs and be called the Office of Financial Empowerment. Jonathan Mintz, the consumer affairs commissioner, said that he was looking to help coordinate and promote a program of individual development accounts that would use public and private money to match accumulated savings.

    Policy experts called the Bloomberg plan significant and unusual. “The amount of money allocated is not trivial, especially if the money is used to leverage other expenditures, say by private businesses or nonprofits,” said Harry J. Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University. “The whole idea of a broad fund to fund innovation seems pretty novel, especially at the city level.”

    Antipoverty advocates offered measured praise for the announcement, saying that while they were pleased that the city was making a financial commitment, more work remained to be done.

    “It is good that the mayor is making a financial commitment to fighting poverty, but we are concerned that this process is not transparent,” said Gloria Walker, a member of Community Voices Heard, an antipoverty group that advised the panel. “Low-income people need to be involved in monitoring and overseeing these new programs.”

    Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said that although he was “extraordinarily pleased” that the $150 million would go to test innovative approaches, particularly the individual development accounts, he warned that it was not nearly enough.

    “It equals only about $125 per person for the approximately 1.8 million New Yorkers living below the meager federal poverty line,” he said.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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