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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Boston Summer Youth Jobs Program Fails in a Time of Crisis

by Jason Pramas (originally credited as Editor)


It’s pathetic, but true. Boston can’t even keep a proper summer youth jobs program going these days. This according to a Boston Globe piece indicating that the city’s 3 main summer jobs programs – run by Action for Boston Community Development, Boston Private Industry Council and the Mayor’s Office – expect to fall far short of the 9,500 jobs provided last summer.

There’s an old social democratic saw that says if we’re going to have a capitalist economic system with built-in permanent unemployment then we sure as hell had better have a cradle-to-grave living wage to provide a minimum taxpayer-funded income for everyone who needs it.

But since this is the U.S. we’re talking about, even that kind of minimal safety net was successfully beaten back by corporate forces decades ago. So the next best thing historically was to run various public jobs programs coupled with Social Security, Welfare, vets pensions, Medicare and a few other Depression-era artifacts to keep people on their knees through hard times, if not on their feet.

Yet even that pale shadow of a government for the people was too much for triumphalist corporations from the 1970s onwards. So government-run jobs programs at all levels are a thing of the past, unemployment is on the upswing, and the remaining U.S. social safety net is in such precarious shape after several years of the latest Bush regime that it barely lives up to the name.

And now, despite a growing list of economic woes, it seems that Boston is not going to be able to provide even the number of summer jobs for young people that it did last year – which was already insufficient in a time where the ranks of “high-risk teens” is growing and almost 25,000 of Boston’s children (about 23%) live in “intense poverty.”

According to a 2005 study by the Boston High-Risk Youth Network, about 8,000 of the over 100,000 youth in the 16-24 age range are classed as “idle youth” (neither in jobs nor school). It is, therefore, quite clear that our city, state and federal governments need to step up and provide sufficient public jobs to give young people a fighting chance for economic survival.

After all, those 8,000 down-and-out youth are hardly the only ones in need of summer – and long-term – employment. And if last year’s 9,500 summer jobs is now slated to drop far below that figure this summer because of cyclical and structural factors in the regional economy as we enter a serious recession, what can we expect will happen to all these unemployed kids?

Simple. Rather than have a city with full employment, and a rising standard of living for all, as we would with a real social safety net, we will instead get rising levels of poverty for over a quarter of Boston’s families – and rising crime, including serious crime like homicides, across the city.

So it seems that, once again, profit trumps people. Rather than reinstitute progressive taxation at all levels of government to pay for the public services we need to have a good society, our corporate-dominated government would just assume let society go to hell as long as profits keep flowing. And perhaps it’s just a bit ironic that the chicken coop that is city government allows foxes like the Boston Private Industry Council to guard the economic welfare of our young people at the same time that such corporate lobby groups fight tooth-and-nail to prevent the expansion of needed social programs across the board. But that’s a discussion for another day. As is a serious look at overall unemployment figures for Boston and environs.

However, there’s still time to act in this case. Mayor Menino needs to seriously get on the stick with what he has long considered one of his policy priorities, and find public money to create a real public jobs program to make sure that every young person that needs a living-wage job this summer will have one. It seems likely that there are two or three things in our fair city that young people in such a program might be able to spruce up, no?

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Excerpts from the Town Meeting on Black Male Joblessness

14 April 2008 – 6:25pm
by Jason Pramas


News video on the April 4, 2008 Town Meeting on Black Male Joblessness at the University of Massachusetts Boston in Dorchester, MA, USA – commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. The event was sponsored by the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and featured MA State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Boston, MA City Councilor Chuck Turner, Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, and Brian Corr of the Cambridge, MA Peace Commission. Sarah Ann Shaw (not featured in this video) was the moderator. 10 minutes, 51 seconds.

For more info, check out

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Boston’s Muni Wifi Woes Exacerbate the Digital Divide

The news last week was that Boston’s municipal wireless internet access (“muni wifi”) plan had slowed to a crawl – the city’s “public-private” muni wifi partnership having raised far less than the estimated $15 million it claims it needs to deliver cheap broadband wifi access to Boston’s neighborhoods.

At stake is a much-needed end to the “digital divide” that keeps Boston’s working class communities and communities of color in the information dark ages compared to more wealthy, and predominantly white, communities. But at this point, the digital divide is alive and well in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston, and Hyde Park. And there’s no solution in sight.

This problem is part of a national trend – and part of the failure of national telecommunications agencies like the Federal Communications Commission to fulfill their mandate to protect the public interest.

Over the last few years, cities around the U.S. got easily suckered by a series of ill-fated private sector dominated plans to deliver muni wifi – only to watch them all fall like candlepins as internet corporations like Google and Earthlink realized that they were never going to be able to make the kind of money they’d hoped for from muni wifi and pulled out of projects around the country. These developments took place even as telecoms and cable companies like Verizon and Comcast fought the muni wifi proposals tooth-and-nail as “unfair competition” to their private (vastly overpriced and pathetically slow) internet networks.

Boston tried to outclever such internet industry-led plans (and, not conincidentally, preempt attacks from Verizon and Comcast), by following Cincinnati’s lead, and proposing the creation of a non-profit entity to run its nascent wifi project – although the city’s partnering with various high-tech corporations made it questionable how non-profit the effort would really be out of the gate.

Regardless, the city’s plans quickly hit the aforementioned fundraising wall, and the few pilot tests of its system ran into protests from the local blogging community that it was “filtering” (i.e., censoring) what websites users could access. Which can be read as one of a number of ways of purposely hobbling its system’s performance to appease the telecom industry’s hollow claims of unfair competition with their paid internet services. In the Cambridge public wifi plan – which also looks to be in trouble – a similar hobbling effect is created by only offering slower-than-normal internet connections through its system.

It’s actually pretty difficult to find accurate information on what’s up with Boston muni wifi as the rather limited energy behind the project has seemingly dissipated. All the relevant city or advocate websites are either out of date or shut down. City of Boston web pages referring to the project haven’t been updated since 2007 (or 2006 in some cases). The same is true of City of Cambridge web pages on their muni wifi project.

The Boston Foundation and other non-profits sponsors are silent. Most noticeable is the absence of the Boston Wireless Advocacy Group formerly run by Michael Oh, the guy that owns the Tech Superpowers internet cafe and Mac repair business on Newbury Street. He was the most visible booster of the project next to Mayor Menino in 2006, but has dropped from view since then.

Still, wherever Boston’s at with its existing muni wifi plans, the fact remains that there’s just no substitute for a fully public taxpayer-funded muni wifi system. For example, comparing where U.S. cities are now to cities like Paris, France that have real public muni wifi (check out this site for a map of Paris’ public wifi access points) shows precisely how far behind the curve we are. Even forcing Comcast and Verizon to change their home and business wifi service contracts to allow for public use of the tens of thousands of existing wifi access points around the city (the way Fon and other European telecom companies are doing in many cities) would be an excellent alternative to the current mess.

Of course both these potential solutions involve privileging the public sector over the private sector – and with corporate power over our government at all levels still in the ascendant, this will only happen if powerful social movements arise to force the issue. Winning a real public wifi system will take a great deal of work, needless to say, but it’s surely a battle worth fighting.

Because unless Boston and other American cities are willing to admit that access to the internet is a basic right in an age where being an information have-not is the equivalent of being shut out of the political and economic systems, and agree to devote tax money to provide the needed coverage as a public service, then we’re going to continue to see only fitful progress toward the goal of universal public internet access in the U.S. There will certainly be no improvements on the federal level until there’s a changing of the guard after the November Presidential election, and maybe not even then. So progress in regional centers like Boston will still be critically important to moving policy change on the national level.

For more (or in this case, less) information, check out:

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