Amid the national indicators of economic growth are all too-often reports of populations left by the wayside. The annual labor market reports produced by the Community Service Society of New York outline employment issues that ought to galvanize the attention of public- and private-sector leaders. The latest report [PDF] in the series includes these findings:
While the employment-population ratio for New Yorkers age 55 to 64 increased 7.2 percent between 2000 and 2006 and 5 percent for New Yorkers 65 and older, the story for young people in the labor market was the exact opposite: “The employment-population ratio for 16- through 24-year-old city residents has plunged by 9.5 percentage points, from 44.1 percent in 2000 to 34.6 percent in 2006.”
“Among men, job holding by Whites has reached its pre-recession 77.8 percent rate. But employment among Blacks and Hispanics at 60.3 percent and 70.6 percent, respectively, remain below their 2000 high-water marks.”
Despite overall employment growth, such backsliding on employment among these groups is not just a problem of labor-market connections, it is a story of continuing and exacerbating gaps between minorities and nonminorities. It isn’t just in New York City; it’s in urban and rural areas evolving into two nations. Political candidates did not just discover this. The “Other America” Michael Harrington described in his galvanizing book in 1962 has never left us.
For all their social-change rhetoric and concern about poverty, the philanthropic sector has never been strongly associated with labor issues—certainly not organized labor in the form of unions. As entities borne of massive corporate wealth, foundations possess historical DNA which doesn’t automatically warm to the concerns of labor.
But on September 6, the Council on Foundations announced the launch of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, aimed at amassing between $30 million and $50 million to support regional and local “workforce partnerships.” As of September 6, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions had aggregated $15 million—largely from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Hitachi Foundation, the foundation arm of the Hitachi Corporation—a number that apparently bumped up to $20 million with a commitment from the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation. Other “partners” in the National Fund include the United Way of America, apparently charged with generating new future partnership sites, and Jobs for the Future, identified as the National Fund’s “implementation partner,” responsible for managing the National Fund’s grantmaking, site selection, technical assistance, and research and evaluation.
A distinctly different partner, in a clearly operational role, is the Council on Foundations (CoF), demonstrating perhaps a new trend under its current leadership to emulate foundations like the Annie E. Casey Foundation that mount and run their own initiatives. Since Steve Gunderson took the helm in 2005, CoF has taken this direction. Gunderson immediately launched CoF-sponsored dialogues on the foremost challenges of the foundation sector, such as foundation responses to the potential avian flu pandemic, disaster relief, nanotechnology, and workforce investment. For anyone familiar with Gunderson’s career after he left Congress, it’s no surprise that workforce development has become CoF’s biggest in-house program initiative; after leaving the Republican Main Street Partnership, Gunderson joined the consulting firm the Greystone Group, where he focused on workforce issues and wrote the book The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works. According to the National Fund’s Web site, CoF’s role is to recruit new funders to the funding collaborative, convene discussions, generate policy recommendations, and set up an advisory committee of corporate grantmakers to “provide strategic insights on programs and ideas to the National Fund for Workforce Solutions Investor Committee.”
Another partner was in the room: the U.S. Department of Labor. Everyone was polite to the Labor Department representative, who lauded the National Fund’s strategy of investments in workforce partnerships and committed [PDF] a half-million dollars to evaluate the CoF effort, but it felt like everyone was indulging an unwanted dinner guest. The official National Fund press release mentions DOL as a national partner, but not a word or testimonial about its role.
The press conference announced three-year grants of $450,000 to 10 workforce partnerships. Six of the partnerships had already received previous grants from a “pilot phase” of the National Fund, possibly a redefinition of past grant support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others to workforce intermediaries. (notably Casey and Ford have had a long history of workforce intermediary research and action, and CoF’s workforce materials and others appear to rely significantly on work done by the Casey Foundation’s Bob Giloth [.ppt] on workforce intermediaries). In any case, foundation attention to workforce development issues is important and should be encouraged.
The shortcomings of this picture can be remedied if foundations want to take the challenge and responsibility:
Show me the money. Maybe CoF has already hit the $50 million goal, but the National Fund’s Web site doesn’t say so. Th