“Urban Men in Poverty: Problems and Solutions” – that was the name of a morning-long conference at Eckstein Hall on Friday. Not surprisingly, the content of the gathering, which featured presentations from five professors from four universities, shed more light on the problems than the solutions. The problems are large and urgent, and good research illuminates them. The solutions are much more difficult to identify and implement.
That gave the conference a lot of content but a sobering tone. On the other hand, hope was present too.
For one thing, the fact that such a gathering occurred was a promising sign, Marquette University President Mike Lovell told the audience of more than 200. This was the first collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs and Marquette Law School. Lovell suggested this was an example of the kind of partnerships that are needed to create change.
“The only way we’re going to face and overcome the problems of urban men in poverty is by working together,” Lovell said. He said there are no easy answers. The problems related to urban men in poverty are rooted in events of decades. Solutions will not come quickly. But, he said, he was excited so many people with serious interest gathered to show commitment to pursing solutions.
Professor Geoffrey Wallace of the La Follette School, and Professor Charles Franklin of Marquette Law School, provided extensive insights into facts and figures on the issues, including reasons for focusing on men and on urban centers in studying these issues. Wallace described “a mass retreat from employment for less skilled men” in recent times, a trend that is particularly strong among African American men.
Franklin presented data on the high percentage of young men who are arrested and incarcerated by their mid-30s and how that negatively impacts their prospects for employment and stable lives. Franklin, who is director of the Marquette Law School Poll, also presented results from the poll that related policies on providing services to low income people.
Professor David Pate of the UW-Milwaukee Department of Social Work, reported on his work over more than two decades examining in great detail the lives of men living in poverty and Professor Mike Massoglia of the UW-Madison Department of Sociology described the impact of incarceration on neighborhoods.
Concluding the presentations, Professor Harry Holzer of Georgetown University offered the most hopeful notes. “Does anything work?” he asked, after describing how factors such as a weaker job market in recent years were making it harder to find paths to an improved overall picture.
He went on to list ideas that he said had had rigorous evaluation and some positive impact. These included social and emotional intelligence programs for youths, youth mentoring, better vocational education for high school age and post-high school age males, and job corps programs. He urged more work on programs to reduce teen age pregnancy and to improve the involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. He said some initiatives of the Obama administration on fronts such as managing child support payment arrearages and improving employment services are showing promise.
He said many low-income youths became “disconnected,” not involved in either education or work, which leads to trouble frequently. “It’s a lot more effective to try to prevent disconnection than to try to reconnect someone who’s already disappeared from these roles,” Holzer said.
Holzer concluded, “There’s a lot of reasons to be discouraged from these numbers, but there’s also reason to be at least a little bit hopeful. . . . For those of you who have spent your careers working on these issues, I salute you for your efforts. Hang in there. We all need to hang in there and keep chipping away at these problems because under the right circumstances, at least some of them can get better.“
The full conference may be viewed by clicking here.