Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome to the Future

Welcome to the Future: Chula Vista California’s Victory In Little League World Series Shows that Barack Obama’s America is Alive and Well

Welcome to Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Yesterday, I watched the final stages of a sports event which left me profoundly moved and inspired. It was the last game of the Little League World Series, and it was a contest pitting a team from Chula Vista California against a team from Chinese Taipei. The team from Chula Vista won 6-3, thanks to excellent hitting, great defense, and inspired pitching performance by a very talented athlete named Kiko Garcia.

But what moved me was not just the quality of the baseball, but the spirit and energy of the team from Chula Vista, which reminded me of a great team my son Eric played on when he was 19 years old, the senior team from the legendary Youth Service organization in Brooklyn.

The Chula Vista team, like its older Youth Service counterpar, was a predominantly Latino team, with a handful of black and white players, led by an all Latino coaching staff and followed by a group of Latino parents whose enthusiasm and love of the game energized everyone around them

Teams like this exist all over the country; but this was the first time in the 50 year history of the Little League World Series that a Latino led team from the US won the
Tournament and was crowned world champion. This victory also erases the scandal associated with the last US Latino team to make it to the final round of the World Series, the Rolando Paulino Little League team from the Bronx, whose star pitcher, Danny Almonte, was exposed as several years over age.

There is not a whiff of scandal associated with the Chula Vista team, which has become a wonderful representative of the growing presence of US Latinos in sandlot, high school and college baseball in the United States

This is something I had an opportunity to witness first hand during my fifteen years of coaching youth baseball in Brooklyn, and during the additional years I spend following
my son Eric’s high school and college teams.

It is no exaggeration to say, using the category of sociologist Roger Waldinger, youth baseball has become a US Latino “ethnic niche.”

All over the Uni ted States, from Bridgeport, to the Bronx, to San Antonio, to San Diego, US born Latinos, and the children of Latino immigrants are infusing youth baseball with an energy, skill and artistry that is reminiscent of what African Americans once brought to the game of basketball. Baseball is the national game in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and a strong rival to soccer in Mexico and Venezuela, and ethnic enclaves from those nations in the US have nurtured an incredible grass roots baseball tradition. When my son was playing high school baseball in NY in the late 90’s, over eighty percent of the All City Players were of Latino ancestry, and it was well known if you wanted to hone your skills enough to play college or professional baseball, you had to join a predominantly Latino organization. Youth Service Team in Brooklyn, which produced players like Shawon Dunstan, Manny Ramirez, and Julio Lugo, was the premier example of such an organization, and my son was fortunate enough to spend two years on its teams and have an experience which expanded his cultural horizons as much as it improved his baseball skills. Our whole family still remembers the Youth Service infield practices, which featured dazzling fielding drills that left spectators from Toronto,
to Bethesda Maryland,, to State College, Pennsylvania utterly mesmerized. In the four years my son pitched in college, he never had an infield remotely comparable to the ones he had those summers.

The team from Chula Vista had that same level of precision, skill and artistry that I saw among Eric’s teammates, instilled by coaches who loved the game and loved imparting skills to young players. Every player in their line up whether they were 5.0”
Or 6’2”, whether they were batting third or batting ninth, could hit for average and hit for power.; and their fielding and pitching was equally outstanding. To use a phrase that Nelson George once applied to African Americans in basketball, these youngsters “elevated the game,” showing skills rarely encountered among players their age

But as impressed as I was by what happened on the field, I was almost impressed by what I saw in the stands. The Chula Vista parents were a cross section of a new, multiracial America that put Barack Obama in office. Not only were Black and white parents an integral part of a majority Latinot rooting section, but several of the key players, including their team’s superstar, Kiko Garcia, were clearly products of interracial/intercultural marriages.

What you had here was a team and organization and a community which blended the best of Latino and American traditions, drawing everyone who watched these games, whether in person, or on television, into something which uplifted their spirits and brought them excitement and joy.

As I watched this team march on to a championship, I coiuldn’t help of the Obama haters around the country who imagine the real America as something “White” when it in fact is becoming gloriously multicultural

Chula Vista Little League is a wonderful symbol of that America

To quote from country singer- and Obama supporter- Brad Paisley in a song that was chosen as the anthem for his years World Series “Welcome to the Future”

Mark Naison
August 30,2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Letter to One of My Top Urban Studies Grads Who Cannot Find A Job


If somewhat as talented as you are cannot find work, the job situation is truly grim. None of my best Urban Studies grads this year have found jobs with non profits, government agencies, or community based organizations. They are having to piece together income from temporary work of all kinds ranging from babysitting to waiting tables to home and car repair to event photography. As for living arrangements, they are all moving back home, or living with friends and learning to budget every dollar carefully.

Frankly, I see no light at the end of this particular tunnel. I just learned from one of my friends, a law professor, that her neice's husband, who was 15th in his class in at a top law school cannot get hired as a lawyer in any capacity, much less in his specialty, environmental law. And because he has a two year old daughter and a wife who is ill, he is going to have to move in with my friends brother or their parents. Statistics bear this out. This year, only 15% of University of Connecticut law school graduates have been able to find jobs. Two years ago, the percentage was over 80% at this time of year!!

As for words of wisdom, I give you the following, though I do so with some trepidation.

1. Since the economy is not going to revive any time soon, make an inventory of all skills you have and use them to find ways of bringing in income. If you are skilled with computers, speak another language fluently, are good at repairing things, can teach or coach a sport, can clean houses or help people organize their files, use those things to find temporary work. Piecing together income from many sources is the key to survival when you cannot find a single job capable of paying your bills

2. Budget yourself as though you are living in a Depression, watch every dollar, and do not buy anything you don't absolutely need. When there is no prospect of economic revival, you have to reject twenty years of consumer socialization and learn to "live lean."

3. Move in with relatives or create communal living arrangements with friends that allow you to share rent, food, electric bills and any other expenses you have.

4. Analyze what are likely to be growth areas in the economy and see if you can position yourself to find full time or part time work in that area. Health care is one such area; drug rehabilition and work with former prisoners is another. Over the next five years, many states are going to have to release non violent offenders because they cannot afford to keep them in jail. There will probably by jobs opening up working with that population. There may also be jobs in various environmental projects supported with stimulous money. If you have construction or repair skills, look in to using them in environmental conversion work.

5. Stay in regular touch with anyone you know who might have knowledge of work opportunities-eg professors, neighbors, former employers- and keep updating your resume to allow for maximum flexibility in enterinng the job market. Also, print up business cards which highlight your most marketable skills, even if they are in areas which have nothing to do with your university training ( e.g. child care, house and office cleaning, computer repair)

6. Join social justice organizations in your area fighting for jobs for the unemployed, or occupying abandoned properties for those who need housing. Remember, their are millions, if not tens of millions of people in this country in the same position that you are in and if you are organize together to fight for what you need, you are more likely to get it than by simply pursuing individual mobility strategies. There is no contradiction between trying to help yourself find work and housing and fighting to make sure that everyone has access to decent housing and decent work.

Anyway, that's about the best I can come up with. Good luck and don't hesitate to stop by the office to talk and join me for lunch, which will be on me!

The least I can do is give all my unemployed grads a free meal The food is probably worth more than my advice

Best Dr N

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why The Job Market for College Grads is Not Likely to Improve Any Time Soon

Why The Job Market for College Grads is Not Likely to Improve Any Time Soon

Dr Mark Naison

One of the hardest things about being professor these days is watch my best recent graduates have difficulty finding jobs. During the last two months, I have fielded at least ten requests from students to refer them to job openings that I know about, and to my great distress, I have not been able to place a single one of them in a vacant position.

This is highly unusual. During a normal spring, I would receive at least five personal requests from heads of government agencies or non profits in the Bronx to have one of my top Urban Studies graduates apply for a position in their organization, along with at least thirty emails advertising jobs my students could apply for. This spring, the number of personal requests has fallen to zero, while the email postings have been less than five. As a result, I have been forced to advise my grads to take any work they can find, be it babysitting and housecleaning, restaurant work, home and auto repair, while sharing living space and food cooperatively so they can live on far less income than they expected.

I wish I could say that this situation will improve soon, but based on the economic indicators I have seen, I don’t expect to see substantial job growth for the 20 to 30 year old age cohort for at least five years.

Here’s why. For the last twenty five years, the major engine of economic expansion in the US has been consumer spending. When the recession hit, fully 70 percent of economic activity in the nation was consumer generated. But this explosion of consumer spending, which took place at all levels of the society, was not, for working class and middle class Americans, based on an expansion of real wages or per capita income. Rather, it was fueled by easy access to credit that came from two sources; credit cards and second mortgages on homes.

In the current economic crisis, both of those sources are drying up. As home values have plummeted, working class and middle class families have lost their ability to finance major purchases be taking out home loans; in fact, many are hard pressed to meet their existing home payments and are in danger of falling into foreclosure

As for credit cards, banks are raising interest rates, tightening eligibility requirements and imposing punitive fees on late payments. More and more consumers are radically curtailing credit card use, while others simply cannot get access to credit cards that banks and finance companies were once giving away

Neither of these restraints on consumer credit are likely to ease. Despite the TARP program and the bailout, many of the nation’s banks, especially small local commercial banks, still have so many toxic assets on their books that they are in danger of failing. The commercial real estate market, in which many banks are invested, is in as bad shape as the housing market ( if you don’t believe me, count the number of vacant stores in your local neighborhood or at the nearby mall). Given their fragility, banks are looking for any excuse to deny people loans, or granting loans only at extremely high interests rates. They are also piling on huge fees on their individual customers to generate revenue

What this means is that American consumers cannot use easy credit to compensate for the loss of jobs, and the loss of income that so many are experiencing during the current economic crisis (which some economists are calling THE GREAT RECESSION) The Obama Stimulus plan is giving some of them enough extra income to keep their heads above water, but just barely. In anticipation of continuing hard times, consumers are saving at a rate that hasn’t been seen in over 20 years.

As consumers retrench, government doesn’t have the power to inject enough income into the economy to reproduce pre-recession employment levels.. By the beginning of
2010, the double digit unemployment levels we are seeing may stop getting worse, but we are likely to see those levels persist until new engines of economic growth appear

Where they will come from is anyone’s guess. Perhaps health care, perhaps environmental technology, perhaps transportation, perhaps new forms of agriculture, perhaps education or international trade. But until that happens, job creation will come too slowly and painfully to help this year’s graduates, and probably several years of graduates to come.

If they take their situation as a challenge, the consequences may not be that tragic. It is their creativity, inventiveness and entrepreneurial skill that may well be the engine for the new kinds of growth we need

But that will not happen until young people realize that the jobs they once expected are not going to magically reappear. They are going to have to learn to share, live with less and become much more flexible and imaginative in developing living arrangements and finding new sources of income

Mark Naison
August 17, 2009.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Tale of Two Boroughs: Class and Race Segregationi in North Brooklyn and the South Bronx

A Tale of Two Boroughs- A Look at How New Housing Construction in North Brooklyn and the South Bronx Intensifies Class and Race Segregation in New York City Segregation

Dr Mark NaisonFordham University

Last week, I had a chance to do an oral history interview with a lifelong resident of the Bronx named Robert Peterson.. Mr Peterson, now 83 years old, spent most of his childhood and youth in a cold water flat on Elon Avenue and 160th Street, in neighborhood that contained a cross section of Irish, Italian, and German residents until Puerto Rican and Black families began moving in during the 1960’s. Unlike most of his white neighbors, Mr Peterson remained in the South Bronx when that neighborhood was underwent physical deterioration and ethnic succession, and purchased an apartment in Concourse Village in 1965, where he has lived to this day.. Mr Peterson, handsome and physically fit, still attends mass at St Peter’s and St Paul’s RC Church, the parish he grew up in and like his mostly African American neighbors shopping, watching movies and eating in the Concourse Plaza shopping center adjacent to his building

After our interview was completed, Mr Peterson took me and his niece Kathy Palmer, who helped me conduct the interview on a walking tour of his old neighborhood, a journey which took us past several key landmarks from Mr Peterson’s youth, including St Peter and St Paul’s Elementary School, the Bronx Union YMCA (now a drug treatment center for youthful offenders), and a German language theater which now holds doctors offices. Mr Peterson could not get over how many new town houses and apartment houses were being constructed on blocks where houses had been abandoned and burned during the 70’s and remained vacant and dangerous through the 90’s. I was equally impressed. On 159th Street and 160th Street, we passed rows of new townhouses with beautifully kept flower gardens in front and saw large apartment buildings being erected near the old Bronx courthouses on 161 St near Third Avenue. Despite the recession construction crews were at work all over the community, and it seemed that every vacant lot in the neighborhood was being turned into a construction site or was slated to be one.

While these signs of economic vitality were deeply gratifying, one thing did disturb me. With the exception of me, Kathy and Mr. Peterson, and a few of the construction workers, I did not see a single white person in the neighborhood. The shoppers, the children and teens playing in the schoolyards, the kids in summer day camp uniforms, the senior citizens sitting outside in folding chairs, the people watering flowers in front of their town houses were all Black and Latino.. What you had was a spanking new, working class and middle class neighborhood, where every single new resident was a person of color, and virtually none had the affect and appearance of the city’s wealthy professional class or even its. counterrcultural, artistic intelligentsia.

Now flash back to the van tour I took two weeks ago, with a former student and her boyfriend, of the wave of new housing construction in North Brooklyn neighborhoods. There in our drives through Park Slope Flatbush Extension, Fort Greene Clinton Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, we passed at least eight condominium complexes and luxury towers that had been built in the last five years. Some of these buildings were completely or partially vacant, but those that were occupied seemed to be populated almost entirely by wealthy young white people, with a smattering of Asians, blacks and latinos of comparable incomes.

Think about the contrast. In one neighborhood, all of the new construction is luxury housing, with rents set by what the market will bear. In the other, the new housing is wholly or partially funded by tax credits and government. subsidies, with rents and housing prices set at rates that upper working class and lower middle class families can afford

.What is the result? Class segregation! In North Brooklyn, the new housing being constructed not only creates housing opportunities exclusively for economic elites, it forces up rents in the existing stock of private rental housing, forcing working class and middle class families out. In Park Slope, Williamsburg and Greenpoint and increasingly in Fort Green and Clinton Hill, a family forced to move because of rising rents simply cannot find anything affordable in their neighborhood . No matter how long they have lived in the community, they will have to find housing in another part of the city, almost inevitably in a neighborhood where there is little economic or racial diversity.

This is where the Bronx comes in. During the last ten years, the existing stock of housing in the Southern part of the borough has grown enormously. Mott Haven, Melrose. Morrisania, Hunts Point and Trememont, even Highbridge and Morris Heights, have been ablaze with new construction, much of it sponsored by local churches and community groups. But this new housing has done nothing to relieve the Bronx’s shameful recent history of hyper segregation. All, and I mean ALL of this housing has been purchased or rented by Black and Latino families, many of them recent immigrants, but virtually all of them people who have been priced out of “hot” neighborhoods like Harlem, the Lower East Side, Park Slope and Williamsburg, were rents have been driven up by a deluge of wealthy new residents

This is the paradox of Michael Bloomberg’s New York. During his six years as Mayor, there has been a residential building boom throughout the city. Incredible numbers of residential structure have gone up in many different parts of the city, including some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. But with rare exceptions, affordable housing construction has been concentrated in already segregated neighborhoods while the city’s few racially mixed neighborhoods have been deluged with luxury housing.The result-the entire Bronx ( with the exception of Riverdale), most of Southern Queens, and huge sections of Central and South East Brooklyn have become places where no white people live at all, while Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Fort Green, the Lower East Side, Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side are rapidly losing most of their working class black and latino residents.

Is this the kind of city we want to live in? Is the destruction of the city’s few mixed neighborhoods something we want our housing policies to encourage?

If we want to preserve and expand neighborhoods where people of different backgrounds and incomes live together, we need to consider the following two policies

1, Begin converting abandoned and partially occupied luxury buildings into affordable housing

2. Require that every new residential building going up in New York City designate at least 35% of its units as affordable housing and set rents and apartment prices accordingly

The City Council and the State Legislature need to act immediately to implrement these measures. Misguided housing policies are fast making New York City one of the most segregated municipalities in the entire nation
Mark Naison
August 12, 2009