How Should de Blasio Continue the Young Men's Initiative?

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Photo by: Office of the Public Advocate

Yesterday we ran a piece by Helen Zelon that took a tough look at one of the signature efforts of Mayor Bloomberg's final term, the Young Men's Initiative or YMI. Launched in 2010 and using ample private funds, YMI was an attempt to reverse the economic and social isolation of young men of color, who are overrepresented among the city's undereducated, unemployed and incarcerated.

Obviously, YMI was a good idea. When commentators on the right attacked the initiative (one conservative columnist labeled it “a greatest-hits package of failed ideas”) in 2011, we invited the Bloomberg administration to knock the criticism out of the park, which they did with an op-ed by an ally.

Two years later, and with Bloomberg about to hand over the keys to City Hall, the question is whether the effort has delivered on its promises.

The Center for an Urban Future this week listed YMI among 10 Bloomberg-era innovations Bill de Blasio should build on, saying that while the initiative was “a work in progress” with limited data on effectiveness, “an initial report identified promising progress,” namely that “by the end of fiscal year 2012, YMI programs had reached 9,565 young black and Latino males.”

Our report was more skeptical. For all the talk about accountability in YMI's early days, there is little enthusiasm now among the effort's backers about judging YMI on its outcomes; instead, supporters contend the mere existence of the YMI is an accomplishment. Maybe that's so, but that won't be enough to justify or guide its continuation under Mayor de Blasio.

Meanwhile, the menu of programs housed under YMI certainly did help hundreds of people, but their scale was dwarfed by the problems it set out to solve. The absence of the NYPD from the initiative, given the role of the police in the lives of many young black guys, is kind of glaring. And the lack of a dedicated funding stream means the decision on whether and how to continue YMI is one of many tough choices that de Blasio will face come January 1.

We've had our turn. Now it's yours. What do you think Mayor-elect de Blasio should do to continue, strengthen (or terminate, if that's your angle) the Young Men's Initiative?

Weigh in here.

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