Of Money Matters

Print More

Nothing animates the managers of most youth development programs more than their relentless foraging for money to keep their services running. Compared to spending on education, health or kids in child welfare or juvenile justice programs, positive youth development undertakings are (except in the affluent communities) at the very end of the queue.

For children growing up in households and neighborhoods of relative prosperity, this shortfall is corrected as a matter of routine. Increasingly, parents are expected to pick up the tab for everything from piano lessons to sports activities to summer camp. In European parlance this is called the commercialization of leisure. But for poor youth and their families this pay-as-you-go option is all too often beyond reach.

Measuring and lamenting youth defects is an always popular topic with the media and the political class. Yet assessing the deficiencies of non-family financial support for all youth has received only cursory attention. The Center for Youth Development and Policy Research of the Academy for Educational Development, headed by former New York City Youth Commissioner Richard Murphy, has pulled together the shards of evidence on non-family spending for youth development. The report estimates what it would cost to provide real youth development while, as President Bush likes to say, leaving no child behind.

The study, “A Matter of Money: The Cost and Financing of Youth Development,” (www.ppv.org/indexfiles/mentor-index.html) paints a sobering portrait of contemporary youth development, in part because much of the canvas is necessarily left blank.
The report quotes National Urban League President Hugh Price on what constitutes sufficient spending on each of America’s 47 million school-age youth as “what [middle class] parents do for their children … on a good day.”

The report builds on earlier studies, most notably the 1992 Carnegie report, “A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Non-school Hours.” It estimates that a typical youth has about 2,000 “vacuum hours” when he or she is not in school, asleep, etc. Filling that vacuum with youth services costs an estimated $2.55 an hour per youth. That adds up to about $3,000 per year, for a grand total of $144 billion annually to adequately serve every school-age youth. Over 12 school years, says Murphy’s report, average spending for each child for public education totals $78,768. That, argues the report, should be augmented by $36,720 in youth development spending.

A survey in Central Indiana found that public and philanthropic spending in the area averaged $4,416 annually per youth (from birth to 18 years old). Three-quarters of that went to education, leaving $1,104 per year for all other expenditures. Some sizable amount of the $1,900 per year needed to bring every youth to “A Matter of Money’s” $3,000 baseline is made up by family spending. Thanks to these routine-for-the-middle class outlays, perhaps up to 80 percent of kids move across the $3,000 threshold. This still leaves about 10 million low-family-income youth on the wrong side of the equation. They and the programs that serve them are the most in need of outside financial support and very often the least able to support adequate fund-raising campaigns.

For example, an evaluation by Public/Private Ventures of Big Brothers Big Sisters found that it costs approximately $1,000 to train and develop a match and to supervise a volunteer. That amount is roughly equivalent to the annual average spending on one low-income child – does anyone think a child in need of a mentor should receive no other youth service?

The burden of proof in justifying expenditures on youth services rests with poor families, service providers and a small cadre of youth development advocates regularly out-gunned by virtually every other interest group in America society. While funding for face-to-face youth work lags (e.g. the federal mentoring program JUMP dawdles along on $16 million per year), a growing army of evaluators, planners and consultants prognosticates on the field’s shortcomings. Asks Murphy in the report’s cover letter, “What scientific research do wealthy parents use to make decisions on providing their children with a range of support and activities in non-school hours?”

President Bush has taken care of the youth development needs of the children of affluence via his tax cuts. When he and members of his cabinet address the upcoming June youth summit in Washington, D.C., it would be reasonable to learn of concrete plans to bring support for youth development services up to the minimum spending target of $3,000 for each and every child. At the risk of putting some of the aforementioned consultants out of work, the White House can dispense with additional public research and simply endorse the Younger Americans Act now pending in Congress.