Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welfare Reform - Next Steps

One of the features in the Perspectives Section of the Chicago Tribune today was on the 10 year anniversary of welfare reform. While giving credit for moving people off the welfare rolls, the story focused on what we need to do to move those people from the working poor to higher income levels. The solution is education.

I use charts to illustrate the time line/opportunity line of preventing poverty or developing future workers. The left end of that line is when a child is born. The Right end stretches to the mid twenties, when that young person should be in the beginning stages of a career. The gray area to the right of this is the rest of a person's life. I use maps to show all of the places where the left end of this time line needs to be reaching kids in specific zip codes. Right now, there are too few of these connections and most don't have long-term career focused vision, nor the funding consistency to provide services for that many years.

Kids grow through pretty well defined stages of preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. If kids were born in high poverty, they begin to drop out of this system mentally by grade 3 and 4 and physically by 10th grade. Check the high school drop out rates for your city and you can determine how much of a problem this is.

Welfare reform focuses on providing retraining for adults who already did not get the tools they need the first chance they had to go through this pipeline. Thus, the costs are much higher to re-educate a person when they are an adult, and the probability of success much lower. It would be much more cost effective to surround a future adult with a learning support network, like a tutor/mentor program, when he is young, and keep it their as he/she grows up.

If you don't agree, look at some of the cost of poverty studies that show the cost of a person entering a life of crime to be $1.6 million or more. The cost of a youth in a tutor/mentor program for 20 years could be $20,000 - $40,000, depending on the costs of space to operate such a program, the size of the program, and the range of activities.

So where does this money come from? That's the problem. I point you to a couple of discussions where this is being addresses:

a) Read the Non Profit Capacity Conundrum at
- this does a good job of illustrating the problem

b) The Future of Community Foundations ..

These two discussions are linked. Community Foundations are struggling to survive in an environment where others are channeling donors directly to charities, or showing donors ways to hide their money so it doesn't go to anyone but the family tree. In this discussion Phil Cubeta makes a case for leadership. He wrote, "At some point you either step up and represent what is best in this country and our moral and civic traditions, or you may as well pull over and let the financial companies go by you like an 18 wheeler high-balling down the highway with the horn blasting. "

I think this leadership opportunity extends to anyone who is concerned with the future of this country. While I don't expect corporate institutions to change focus on bottom line, I do believe that individuals who lead corporations can, and should provide moral leadership. Last time I looked, many of these people professed to be members of faith communities.

There are many places where people can meet to talk about ways to build an education based pipeline to careers. One is So far, we don't have enough of the right people (foundation, business, faith and university leaders, etc.) using our forum to lead this discussion, so we look for ways we can join in their discussions. Yet, I don't find many places on the internet where this is happening, or where the discussion points to maps of cities like Chicago, and to the places where dollars, volunteers, leaders are needed to fill the pipeline with programs that mentor kids to careers.

You'll find that at the T/MC site. I encourage you to include this in your discussion and deliberation on the next steps of welfare reform, or the ways to make community foundations viable.

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