September 28, 2004

Fifth Column... (and a Sixth, and a Seventh...)

Resolved: That the crop of columnists currently filling in for Thomas Friedman—especially Dahlia Lithwick and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—are light-years beyond their predecessor. Discuss. Seriously, though, the Times would be well-served by offering rotating month-long spots to guest columnist who could each develop some "pet" issue at length over the course of a few columns. Gates' weekend piece, on whether African-American workers can just get up to "average", is especially good, churning out solutions left and right:
Recently, I asked a few experts on poverty in black America about how we might get to average. I heard a lot of deep breaths. When they picture black America, they see Buffalo - a boarded-up central city and a few lakefront mansions. The glory days for the black working class were from 1940 to 1970, when manufacturing boomed and factory jobs were plentiful. But when the manufacturing sector became eclipsed by the service economy, black workers ended up - well, stuck in a demographic Buffalo.

My colleague William Julius Wilson, the sociologist, thinks better manpower policies would help. Once black workers moved to where the jobs were; they need to do it again. Instead of trying to turn ghettos into boomtowns, then, we ought to provide workers with relocation assistance, and create "transitional public sector jobs" for those who haven't yet found a private-sector gig. Oh, and - since we're dreaming - fixing the schools would be nice, including "school-to-work transition programs," to place high school grads in the job market….

But maybe, as the economist Glenn Loury suggests, we need to aim lower. "There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the vast, disproportionate overrepresentation of African-Americans in prison or jails," he told me. "It's our deepest problem." Job training for willing prisoners would be a good start.
-- Brad Plumer 2:34 AM || ||