When I turned 40 and became a first-time father earlier this year, I reflected on many good fortunes, including how thankful I am to live in Los Angeles, where the local economy is booming. However, amid the great prosperity there is also an ongoing crisis brewing.
African American and Latino youth living in underserved, impoverished pockets of L.A. County are trapped in a perpetuating cycle of violence and underachievement despite the fact that they live within a larger city that is thriving. Only a handful of miles from their homes there are job opportunities and positive examples that can provide the path to prosperity, but instead these communities are often unaware of or unable to access L.A.’s bountiful economic resources.
Our inner cities have unacceptably low high school graduation rates, extremely high rates of crime and stubbornly high unemployment. Nearly a third of African Americans and a quarter of Latinos in L.A. County did not earn a high school diploma in 2014. The unemployment rate among African Americans in Los Angeles is nearly twice as high as the overall county rate.
These are discouraging statistics. Due to the prolonged state of subpar conditions, many inner city youths caught in this vortex of despair lose faith in the American dream – that through honest hard work, change and success are possible for them.
A natural reaction from the business community to the challenges impacting inner city youth is to simply offer encouraging statements such as, “Study hard, stay on the right path and great opportunity awaits.”
I wholeheartedly believe in this motto. After visiting several U.S. inner cities with Keenen Ivory Wayans over the past 10 years, I also believe the inherent challenges of life in these impoverished areas make executing this motto extremely difficult, and the odds are against success today. Our business community, not the government, can create more balance and shift these odds.
Business leaders can demonstrate to young people that career paths are available for them, thereby providing a more tangible path to success and partially counteracting the negative influences. Beyond the confines of their immediate struggling neighborhoods, L.A. offers a plethora of opportunities. By connecting young people to opportunities for achievement through gainful employment, we can give them the motivation they need to stay in school, stay out of trouble, and lead a life that includes safety, stability, and prosperity. Proper preparation is critical.
An added benefit of this approach is that we build a better-trained, home-grown workforce, which is good for business. Manufacturing, hospitality, and entertainment are three industries in which we can start.
Los Angeles remains the largest manufacturing hub in the United States, and the jobs are generally good ones. These jobs have consistently paid between 50 percent and 60 percent higher than real average annual wages in all other industries. Due in part to rising labor costs in China and the emergence of high-tech manufacturing, American manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance, and yet there is a shortage of trained workers in the sector. Why not create a modern program that focuses on exposing young adults to this industry at a young age?
The hospitality sector is one of the strongest growth areas in our economy, but, again, due in part to a lack of trained employees, hotels often recruit overseas for quality talent. Grooming workers and promoting the industry to local young people is a smart alternative.
And because Los Angeles is the creative entertainment capital of the world, the industry has a wide array of jobs at a variety of skill levels. Dedicated, focused outreach by the technology and entertainment industries to urban youth would be extremely helpful in motivating them to stay optimistic and inspire hard work.
There are several nonprofit organizations that are well positioned to help in these efforts. There is an opportunity for the business community to both support these organizations financially and collaborate with them.
The systemic challenges facing this struggling population in LA’s inner city are indeed daunting, and there is no simple solution. However, as Sen. Cory Booker recently said: “We can’t allow our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something.”
Due to the privileged position of our business leaders I urge them and the rest of the community to acknowledge that this crisis would benefit from their attention, and to make a commitment to help. The result could be a brighter future for a generation and a better Los Angeles.
Britten Shuford is co-founder and managing partner of PRG Investment & Management Inc. in Santa Monica.
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