Among the great strengths of a policy-oriented foundation like Joyce is the willingness to take a long view, to be patient investors in ideas that take time to have impact, and to take chances on projects that may not work out.
But in times of crisis, we also have an obligation to be responsive to immediate challenges in our Midwest region.
We are now in one of those times.
We began 2009 with Joyce assets at a six-year low, the economy in crisis, and deep uncertainty about the future.
As the year played out, it became clear that despite federal stimulus spending and major interventions to protect the nation’s economy, high unemployment would persist for some time. Midwest states, where we focus our funding, were particularly hard hit, especially in communities largely dependent on the auto industry. Detroit’s unemployment rose to 30 percent, while many towns in Ohio and Indiana were in the double digits. Among young African American men, these numbers were astronomical: 50 percent were unemployed in Detroit, for example.
Meanwhile, the states themselves were and continue to be in crisis. Illinois’ deficit is estimated at more than $13 billion; the state is unable to pay its bills, causing a cascade of trouble for public universities, hospitals, social service agencies, and the people who depend on them. Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio…all have similar stories.
This grim situation has certainly focused attention on the needs of the most vulnerable. But it has also called to the surface the deep connections and interdependencies of different segments of our society. America needs a highly skilled and well-educated workforce to maintain its leadership—and this cannot happen when up to half of the children in public high schools fail to graduate. It will require community colleges and workforce community programs to be closely aligned with the needs of employers, and effectively support students to complete their credentials at a high rate. Many jobs that disappeared during this recession will not return, so we must identify and invest in strategies to help millions of adults—people who worked hard their entire lives, with great work ethic and the very strong desire to succeed—learn new skills so they can support themselves and their families.
States and the federal government invest billions in programs to help displaced workers, and in supporting community colleges and workforce training programs. Yet the results are mixed. That is why, in 2007, we launched Shifting Gears: to identify and support innovators in six states who could devise ways to improve outcomes of the state workforce systems and community colleges, and more directly engage employers in the process. Our investment has helped bring together adult education, workforce, and community college systems in unprecedented ways to promote program strategies that lead to jobs and career advancement.
From a taxpayer perspective, it makes sense to make sure that these state-supported institutions are showing results when we need them most. From an employer point of view it is critical; why should jobs go begging in suburban Cleveland, while people who only need the proper training languish in poverty-stricken areas of the city? And of course, the workers themselves, who played by the rules while the game changed around them, need and deserve our collective best efforts to ensure the ongoing prosperity of their communities.
The education of young people is intertwined with workforce challenges and is a high priority for Joyce. High drop-out rates and huge performance gaps between low-income minority students and those who are more affluent is a major problem that has long preoccupied and frustrated policy leaders and educators. How can we hope to prepare young people for future jobs if they do not graduate from high school, never mind moving on to a two-year degree or certificate?
The research is definitive that the quality of the teacher is the single most important factor in students’ success; clearly, teachers deserve our deepest respect and support, since they have such a huge impact on our children. Therefore, Joyce has invested heavily in programs that help ensure that the neediest kids have access to excellent well-supported teachers. This means digging in to how teachers are selected, what they are compensated and rewarded for, how they are mentored and supported in their early years, and which teachers are retained and which are asked to move on.
Race to the Top has been an amazing boost to our efforts. The $4.3 billion carrot, supplemented by major advocacy among education reform groups, prompted more legislative progress in Illinois than we dreamed was possible. In fact, the legislature passed five major bills since September that set the stage for improved teaching and school leadership. Happily, many other states have similar stories. What every state wants, of course, is the money to carry out improvements. But if Illinois is any indication, Race to the Top has already stimulated very significant policy changes that will allow progress in the future.
In our Environment program, 2009 was a very mixed year. Several major advances included a $475 million federal allocation for Great Lakes Restoration, something Joyce and our grantees fought to achieve for years; these funds will be crucial to maintaining water quality in the lakes, which represent 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, and will preserve critical habitat for birds and animals. Another Joyce goal is to stop construction of conventional coal-burning power plants while promoting development of cleaner coal technologies as well as alternative fuel sources. We targeted two high-priority plants—Big Stone II (Grant County, SD) and AMP-Ohio (Meigs County, OH); both were cancelled in 2009, due to a combination of economic and regulatory pressures.
However, as the recession deepened over the past year, state and federal policy makers had diminished enthusiasm for taking on some of the tasks necessary to reduce carbon emissions. With cap and trade legislation in limbo and mixed outcomes from the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, it is quite unclear when we will see renewed activity in this arena.
Public awareness of another threat to the region—invasive species—was given a boost by a creature seemingly direct from Central Casting: giant, voracious, and very unattractive Asian carp, which are eating their way up the Mississippi and into Lake Michigan. Their habit of leaping from the water and occasionally knocking boaters to their knees was captured on YouTube and viewed more than 550,000 times. It remains unclear when the carp will reach the lake and, if they do, whether they can survive in its colder waters. But either way, the point has been made: invasive species are a real threat, it will require regional cooperation to fix it, and there are economic as well as environmental reasons to invest in a solution.
On Gun Violence, the activity of many grantees focused on a landmark Supreme Court case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, which challenges the unconstitutionality of the City’s ban on handguns. If the Court decides that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments, we expect a torrent of litigation as pro-gun groups challenge existing gun laws. Our grantees, led by Legal Community Against Violence, coordinated the development of amicus briefs in the case, and will set up a panel of pro bono lawyers to defend state and local laws in future cases.
Another emphasis has been on reducing gun access in illegal markets. The so-called ‘secondary market’ which includes gun shows, flea markets, and private sales, is largely unregulated and accounts for 40 percent of gun transfers nationally. This means that prohibited buyers (those with mental illness, or orders of protection in a domestic violence case, for example) can easily obtain guns without a background check. Reducing loopholes in this system has been and will continue to be a major priority for our grantees, like Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
A big push in the Money and Politics program was to help coordinate a strategic initiative focused on the 2010 census. Joyce made close to $1 million in grants aimed at boosting census participation in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, especially of so-called ‘hard-to-count’ communities (minorities, low income, immigrants, renters and others) who traditionally have been least likely to participate. We did this to ensure that Midwest residents get their fair political voice over the next ten years, as well as their fair share of federal funding—at least $15,000 per person over the decade—for education, employment, the environment, law enforcement, and other issues. We were especially engaged in Illinois, where we led the Count Me In campaign, in which 10 foundation partners supported 60 community-based organizations to help people understand the value of census participation.
Overall, our targeted areas did quite well. At a time when Census Bureau leaders feared there would be a decline in responses nationally, and in the face of many forces working against participation, 72 percent of all American households returned their census forms, matching the 2000 participation rate. All of our states met or exceeded their 2000 rates. In Illinois, the Count Me In initiative appears to have been a significant success. Count Me In grantees helped Chicago boost its mail-back response rate 5 percentage points over its 2000 rate; amongst the 25 largest cities in the United States, Chicago’s gain was the second biggest improvement over 2000. The story is similar in other parts of the state. Many factors likely account for these results (including greater advertising and other efforts by the Census Bureau in hard-to-count communities, as well as city-led efforts), but from the pattern of the results and the reports we got from the field, we believe that the efforts of nonprofit organizations that are seen as trusted voices in their communities likely made a major difference.
Another strategic initiative we undertook in 2009 is an exploration of how prizes, competitions, and challenges may be used to generate breakthrough innovations on persistent social policy problems. Prizes have unique attributes that standard government tools like grants, contracts and regulation often do not. They encourage and reward creativity and innovation; they can attract many new or unlikely entrants or ‘problem-solvers’ to tackle intractable problems; and they can be structured so that government pays only for results, while prize competitors voluntarily cover development costs. Several federal agencies (Defense, Energy, NASA, and notably Education, with Race to the Top) are already using challenges, but most agencies that work on domestic social policy have not had experience with prizes. Though very much a work in progress, it is an area that is gaining significant traction amongst federal policy makers and is a place we expect to concentrate further on through 2010, with a goal of helping launch at least one competition related to a Joyce priority in the next year or two.
And, finally, Joyce’s Culture program has continued to be one of the largest supporters of diverse arts groups in the Midwest. It has been a brutal year, financially, for almost every group; indeed many have not survived. Yet the quality and vitality of artists’ work have, if anything, improved. Notable moments in 2009 included the Ravinia premiere of dancer Bill T. Jones’ tribute to Abraham Lincoln, Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, a multi-media extravaganza now on a national tour and heading to Europe.
We are proud of the work of our grantees and partners, and look forward to a continued strong partnership.
Ellen S. Alberding, President