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People have the “will” to get jobs, but the government needs to come up with the way, said Dedrick Muhammad, senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies at a Center for American Progress event last Tuesday. The event featured two panels on current and future policies to target low-income men who face significant challenges stemming from joblessness, criminal justice system involvement, and the failings of certain aspects of child support enforcement policy and implementation. These challenges harm their families and have only been exacerbated by the Great Recession. The panelists suggested the need for comprehensive programming and solutions aimed at men and their children.
Muhammad was joined on the first panel by Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, and Vicki Turetsky, commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Joy Moses of the Poverty and Prosperity Program at CAP moderated. The second panel featured representatives from model programs that provide comprehensive services to men: Susana Martinez, director of Promotor Pathway Program at the Latin American Youth Center, and James Worthy, director of Responsible Fatherhood Program at the Center for Urban Families. Erica Williams, Deputy Director of Progress 2050 at CAP moderated.
The Great Recession has crippled the middle and working classes. But low-income men, and especially those who are African American and Latino, have always had high rates of unemployment. The have also been disproportionately represented in the criminal justice and child support enforcement systems. Nevertheless, the federal government has targeted only a few efforts to address these needs.
Panelists suggested that the population’s image was part of the problem and that advocates must seek to reframe how policymakers, and Americans more generally, view the population. For example, the familiar news image of low-income men who fail to pay child support needs to be replaced with a more accurate one of many men who are simply too poor to maintain child support obligations that are at times set at unrealistically high levels.
“One positive effect of this recession is that not being able to find a job is no longer considered a sin. It’s a problem of the national economy,” said Muhammad. But it’s a problem that disproportionately affects stigmatized individuals, such as recently incarcerated men attempting to re-enter society, and minorities and their children who rely on child support to survive. He suggested the need for more robust job creation efforts, indicating that the Senate version of the new jobs bill simply does not go far enough to address the need.
Mauer stressed the importance of preventing further mass incarceration and promoting successful re-entries into society. Proper implementation of the Second Chance Act is critical. Turetsky highlighted how child support enforcement agencies, in addition to seeking collections from men, can help to support their needs. These agencies can provide employment supports as well as access and visitation with their children—both types of services not only promote increased child support payments but work to the benefit of entire families.
Finally, the event showcased the need for comprehensive service models. Worthy explained the work of the Center for Urban Families, a model program in Baltimore that provides a broad range of services that include help with employment, negotiating child support obligations, and keeping up with payments, re-entry barriers, and conflict resolution for parenting couples. “We’re not here to change the climate or what the game is,” Worthy explained, “we give you the skills to play the game.”
Similarly, the Latin American Youth Center offers men (and women) comprehensive services, combining education and employment needs with mental health and family services. Despite her center’s successes in working with youth, she noted that the recession was making it more difficult for her program’s participants to find jobs. More of them are now looking to obtain their GEDs and complete their education because “they realize that the job opportunities that might become available are not at their level right now.” It is challenging to “prepare them for these opportunities and then there are no opportunities,” lamented Martinez.
12:00 – 1:00 p.m.: Panel I: Current and Future Policy
Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Organizer and Research Associate, Institute for Policy Studies
Vicki Turetsky, Commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Joy Moses, Poverty and Prosperity Program, Center for American Progress
1:00 – 2:00 p.m.: Panel II: Model Programs
Erica Williams, Deputy Director, Progress 2050, Center for American Progress