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Big Robert Wood Johnson Grant Targets Young Native Men

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has targeted young Native men as part of a $12 million grant in its Forward Promise initiative.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has targeted young American Indian/Alaska Native men as part of a big $12 million grant in its Forward Promise initiative to help young men and boys of color achieve health and success.

Forward Promise has seven key areas of focus, two of which it cites as especially applicable to Native boys and young men: graduation rates and employment.

“Forward Promise does not subscribe to the traditional model of focusing on risk factors, rather, we are focused on opportunity factors—factors and influences that play a critical role in helping young men grow up healthy, get a good education and find meaningful employment,” according to the Foundation. These include collaboration, diversity and innovation.

Among its grants are one to the Alaska Native Heritage Center for $500,000.

In its issue brief on dropout rates, the Foundation noted that for 2012, the status dropout rate was 14.8 percent for American Indian/ Alaska Native males. And it noted a correlation between dropouts and family poverty.

It concludes the most successful efforts to combat dropouts include those that reach all grade levels and all stakeholders in the educational pipeline; include families and communities; establish collaboration among interested institutions and groups; heighten the relevancy of educational efforts; and establish relationships between youth and adults who will guide them and commit to their success.

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On the employment side, the issue brief notes that in 2015 “just one in five American Indian/Alaskan Native male teens were employed. While employment population rates dropped from 48 percent to 28 percent for young white men during this same time period, they are still more likely than American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, and Hispanic/Latino male teens to be attached to the labor market.”

A table in the brief indicates that 20 percent of Native youth were employed in 2015, an increase from the recession levels of 2009 but a decrease from the year 2000.

Lacking a high school diploma makes the chances for unemployment higher, the Foundation said. “Youth disconnection (from school) rates for Native Americans (20.3 percent) are markedly higher than rates for Asian Americans (7.9 percent) or whites (11.3 percent).”

It adds “nearly two-thirds of young American Indian and Alaskan Native men with less than a high school diploma are unemployed. Earning a high school diploma and improved educational attainment can inoculate against unemployment and increases lifetime earnings. Obtaining a high school diploma cuts the unemployment for young American Indian and Alaskan Native men by more than 50 percent.”

“Public policy interventions” are necessary to combat youth unemployment, but the Foundation notes that Department of Labor funds for this effort have declined by 33 percent in the last 15 years. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) should be maximized, it recommends.

Other recommendations include targeting young men who are fathers and promoting economic security for young adults by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Forward Promise has received several grants from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, including $5 million in 2012 and $11.5 million in 2014.