Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wake-Up Call for Black Folks

Last year, Philadelphia’s new mayor initiated an idea he thought up on the campaign trail to spur the hiring of the ranks of ex-cons and drive down the crime rate.
For three years, businesses would receive a $10,000 a year tax break, a credit against the city’s business tax for each ex-offender they hired. To make it even more attractive for employers, the ex-cons had to work for just a six-month minimum.
Sounds great except for one problem; not one single business has applied for the $5 million program – enough for 500 ex-offenders – during the first year.
Service providers and city officials speculate that the re-entry program has failed for a number of reasons including the recession, confusion and a lack of information about the benefits and requirements, including rules that the ex-cons would be paid 150 percent of the minimum wage, and that employers must provide $2,000 worth of tuition support.
So far, just two unnamed companies that have hired 15 ex-cons are due to apply for the credit next year. Why so little participation? According to a city official, companies are willing to pitch in, but don’t like the requirement that they would be identified publicly.
No kidding.
Blacks and whites make up about 44 and 45 percent respectively of Philadelphia’s nearly 1.5 million population. But 74 percent of the city’s nearly 9,700 prison inmates are black. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that lots of black men are in prison, the majority of whom will be released back into society someday.
And this is what they can look forward to when they get out of lockup?
Some say the failure is the mayor’s, that he’s not effectively using the clout of his office to make the program a success. And of course, there’s the tanking economy. But those outs are too easy.
Can you really blame employers who must pay the ex-cons more than their (unionized) workers, and are forced to let everybody know they’ve hired former inmates? Some might think that’s a pretty naïve attitude to take since, every day people who’ve served time serve the general public at all levels of employment.
But honestly, would you blame customers if they were hesitant to patronize an establishment knowing that jailbirds are working there? That’s just human nature and sometimes human nature doesn’t cut folks much slack regardless of good intentions.
At the same time, this cauinary tale should serve as a wakeup call to all the knuckleheads out there who view a rap sheet as rite of passage. Sometimes they cast shadows lasting a lifetime.


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