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Philanthropy, the Affordable Care Act, and Boys and Men of Color

February 26, 2014

(Jordan Medina is health policy fellow at the Greenlining Institute, where he co-authored the report Pathways Out of Poverty: Boys and Men of Color and Jobs in the Health Sector.)

Headshot_jordan_medinaThe United States faces a crisis. We have a staggering racial wealth gap — for every $1 a white family has in assets, the median Latino family has about 7 cents, while the median black family has less than 6 cents. One reason for that gap is that too many boys and men of color are uneducated, disengaged, and unemployed.

This isn't a new problem, but changing racial demographics mean that politicians and business leaders must start paying attention to boys and men of color if America is to remain economically competitive in the twenty-first century. Fortunately, as with every problem, there's a solution. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) presents stakeholders with an incredible opportunity to create a culturally competent health workforce while simultaneously lowering the unemployment rate for boys and men of color. The question is: Do we have the courage and political will to see it through?

The ACA expands healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, mainly those too cash-poor to afford it on their own and those suffering from pre-existing conditions. People of color are disproportionately represented in both groups, while the influx of newly eligible consumers puts pressure on the healthcare and health services industry to expand its workforce to meet the increased demand for care. Given the high levels of unemployment in communities of color, considerable time and money should be spent figuring out ways to better prepare boys and men of color for jobs in the health sector.

This may sound like a difficult task, but a lot of the groundwork already has been laid. A new report I co-authored for the Greenlining Institute highlights some of the ways in which California, the nation's most populous state and long an incubator of public policy experiments, is forging ahead with plans to better integrate boys and men of color into the health workforce.

One approach is to offer career pathway programs. Long considered the norm in Europe, career pathway programs create a bridge between public education systems and private industry through innovative curriculum and real-life work experiences. To that end, in 2013 California legislators earmarked $250 million to create the Career Pathways Trust in hopes of fostering collaborations between school districts and private employers; while the grants aren’t health workforce-specific, they can be used to fund health workforce pathway programs that prepare boys and men of color to become nurses’ assistants, medical transcriptionists, or emergency medical technicians.

Career pathways programs are just one piece of the puzzle, however, and their limited reach means that some boys and men of color will be left behind. In addition, it will take a few years before these programs actually change the racial and gender distribution of the health workforce. The philanthropic sector can play a major role in filling these gaps and uplifting boys and men of color.

Foundations alone can't educate, engage, and employ boys and men of color, but they can use their political clout to bring stakeholders — including the private sector, government officials, and community-based organizations — together to discuss collaborative ways to improve the livelihoods of this underserved group. Stakeholders interested in improving the lives of boys and men of color should focus on things like public-private educational partnerships, criminal justice reform, and workforce initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion. These aren't the only barriers boys and men of color face, but they're a good place to start.

While Programs like the Career Pathways Trust are promising, they rely heavily on tax dollars and always are at risk of being cut or drastically scaled back — and they're not even an option in some states. Combining public dollars with foundation grants and private investments could help sustain, expand, or even create workforce programs and other outreach efforts that target vulnerable populations. Imagine the impact educational programs could have if funding were guaranteed for ten years instead of one.

Advocating for more educational programs is a good thing, but it isn't enough. Foundations should also fund research and advocacy efforts that examine other reasons why boys and men of color remain so disconnected from society. Criminal records resulting from a racially skewed justice system, for example, prevent many boys and men of color from voting, attending college, and gaining employment. Funding research that highlights disparities in sentencing between men of color and white men, while provocative, may actually result in systemic changes that improve the livelihood of boys and men of color.

Foundations also should recognize that their commitment to boys and men of color must go beyond awarding money to organizations and programs. They should, for example, work to convince the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to increase employment opportunities for boys and men of color. Similarly, foundations could use their networks to create policies and programs that promote diversity and inclusion efforts across industries. A good place to start would be philanthropy's own backyard.

Efforts like these, if implemented aggressively, have the potential to drastically change the lived experiences of boys and men of color in the United States. As our nation becomes more diverse, we must begin to develop ways for philanthropy, private industry, and the public sector to create pathways to the middle class for boys and men of color. The ACA gives our country another opportunity to get it right. Let's not waste it.

— Jordan Medina

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Being a philanthropist is for everybody, regardless of gender, age, race, and skin color. Thanks for this post.

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