One parade, many marches

The annual Puerto Rican Day Parade this Sunday is a great opportunity to honor the rich culture and contributions of a veteran NY community. It is also a chance to reflect on challenges and commitments.

This week, the Community Service Society (CSS) shared updated statistics from a 2010 report that warned that young Puerto Rican ages 16 to 24 lagged behind in school enrollment and employment. The new data shows that the situation of these young people worsened in the two years after the report was published.

The numbers are disheartening: 30% of the 100,000 Puerto Rican teenagers living in the five counties in 2009 and 2010 reported they are unemployed or not in school.

When CSS published its study – which back then revealed that the figure was at 24% – community leaders and elected officials justifiably hit the roof and promised to create coalitions to tackle the problem.

The outrage heard back then is barely audible now. A concerted effort to “reconnect” this large number of young boricuas with services to help them build healthy, productive lives and strong communities is needed today more than ever.

When compared with other Latino groups, the Puerto Rican community has more members at one extreme or the other: more people with incomes under the federal poverty level but also more with high income levels. This gap is also visible in neighborhoods. In Boricua communities -unlike Dominicans and Mexicans, which tend to mix up more-the poor are surrounded by the poor. Because poverty is highly concentrated, intervention is needed in order to break this cycle.

It’s imperative to make more funds available to schools in these neighborhoods and community organizations that help fight school absenteeism and dropouts, and provide vocational education opportunities, GED preparation and job placement services. In addition, CUNY should develop a strategy to turn around the decline in the number of Hispanic students attending four-year programs.

None of this will happen, however, if the community doesn’t unite and demand change. Crucial municipal, state and federal elections are taking place this and next year. Let’s ask incumbents and candidates for public office to present their plans to help these young people break out of poverty.

In 2010, El Diario called for a task force to map out a tailored strategy to help these youths. This year, we renew this call and extend it to all community groups. We must join forces to have more reasons to celebrate in upcoming years.