Economist Joseph Schumpeter suggests that, “the public finances are one of the best starting points for an investigation of society, especially … of its political life.” What, then, do we learn about our own community when we examine our local municipal budget? What do the allocations in the 2018 budget for the City of Memphis tell us about our collective priorities, especially as they pertain to our local youth?
In his letter accompanying the proposed FY 2018 budget, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland remarked that it reflects an increased investment in youth, as Memphis would be “spending $663,000 more on our youth jobs programs — amplifying a program that already provides 1,400 meaningful opportunities for Memphis young people every year.”
When we look at the 2018 budget as published, we see the $663,000 as the allocation for youth services broadly. The actual increase in funding to the MPLOY Youth program was only $150,000, which only funds an additional 250 positions for summer youth employment. To those who would argue that Memphis lacks the resources to invest in youth, I would stress a consideration of the public finances. In 2018, there was no increase in the tax collection rate. Yet, there was an additional $5.8 million allocation to the Memphis Police Division and $2 million more to street paving for a total of $18.5 million. These financial decisions are a strong indication of the relative valuation of Memphis youth.
While any additional positions for the MPLOY program are a step in the right direction, with more than 8,000 applicants annually, 1,500 positions are not enough to support the professional and academic development of Memphis’ youth population. Take a look at how other cities are working to bridge the gap, and how we can follow suit.