Saturday, August 23, 2014

AmeriCorps Inner City Tutors Program Gets Short End Of Wage And Benefits Stick, But It's The Children In North Minneapolis Who Pay The Ultimate Price...

Stock photo, blog post by John Hoff

A recent article republished on Twin Cities Daily Planet, but originally published in Insight News, (click here for the article) highlights the fact our North Minneapolis schools need 150 tutors for math and literacy. 

In case that number didn't register, let me stomp my virtual foot and highlight it more. Our North Minneapolis schools need ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TUTORS to teach our children basic math and literacy...

...and how will we get them? How will we get these desperately needed tutors? 

Well, the article mentions the AmeriCorp program. 

Yes, the AmeriCorps program could potentially provide the tutors, if only young people would volunteer for those AmeriCorps positions. And so, apparently with a perfectly straight face, the Insight News article proceeds to outline what these precious and desperately needed AmeriCorps tutors would earn for their vital service, as follows:

Tutors commit to a year of service, during which they undergo training and earn a living allowance of up to $526 biweekly and an education award of up to $5,645 to help pay for furthering their own education. Full-time tutors are also eligible to receive health insurance.

OK, readers, lets get out our scratch paper calculators and figure out how much these tutors will be earning. First of all, $526 biweekly works out to $263 weekly. 

Let me once again stomp my virtual foot. TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY THREE DOLLARS A WEEK to tutor inner city children. Why is this called a "living allowance" instead of wages, I wonder? I suppose because if you call it "wages" somebody might actually say "But those are terrible wages. I could make more working a low end job doing almost anything else!" 

Yes. You could.

Oh, but let's examine that $5,645 tuition credit, shall we? Sounds like a lot of money, but keep in mind you must work a year to earn that credit. And there are (last time I checked) 52 weeks in a year. 

Let's keep the math simple and round to 50. So 100 times 50 equals 5,000 which takes care of most of that money. OK, but then then throw in the leftover 2 weeks, which takes care of another $200 and leaves $445 left over. 

So, really, it's about 100 bucks a week. Take that 100 bucks and add it to the $263 "living allowance" you would be raking in about $363 a week. Plus health insurance. Think of the remaining $445 as a Christmas bonus...which can only be used for tuition, not presents for your family. 

And keep in have to work your full year to get that tuition bonus. And it can ONLY be applied to tuition. As for health insurance, well, it's not the precious and hard-to-obtain commodity it used to be. And I wonder if it's free to the AmeriCorps employee or if the employee has to pay insurance premiums out of that skinny little "living allowance?"

In summary, these wages and benefits offered to would-be tutors of inner-city children is an abysmal package and it's no wonder there are 150 spaces. I'm guessing when the school year starts any red-hot second there will be about 149 spaces left. Or, in the alternative, local people who aren't too qualified but desperately need jobs will be shoved into some of those spaces. 

That wouldn't be such a bad thing, though. Even if not good at "math and literacy tutoring," per se, extra hands would be helpful in the classroom especially if possessing positive mothering and fathering skills. 

But who knows what will happen with the 150 spaces? Hopefully Insight News will follow up with additional information as the school year starts. How many tutoring positions got filled? What were the qualifications of those who filled them? Did each of the volunteers receive their free ball cap with AmeriCorps logo or were they paid in promises?

Practically since the inception of AmeriCorps, this fine program has been limping along on far less money than it needs and deserves. Idealistic people join the AmeriCorps cause, and idealistic people get paid in the nebulous currency of good feelings and kind addition to the insulting wages outlined above. 

It's no wonder their term of service is a year. Because three months is about how long it takes a person to wise up but then realize they better play this bad hand and gut it out until the end of their year. 

Who pays the ultimate price? The children who need these tutors. And society, when these tutor-less children grow up lacking math and literacy skills. There are also hidden costs to society when idealistic people like these AmeriCorps volunteers realize they've been used, and tell themselves, "Never again will I work for so little and allow myself to be taken advantage of because of my starry eyed idealism." 

We can do better. But will we? I think a start to "doing better" involves "doing the math" and pointing out in a public way THIS JUST DOESN'T ADD UP. 

I sincerely hope our new Minneapolis school board members, who will be elected in the next election, will be taking up this issue of grossly, embarrassingly underpaid AmeriCorps tutors. 


Anonymous said...

And what about the administrators of this program? How much do they make?

Johnny Northside! said...

Don't know. If you find information on how much an AmeriCorps administrator makes, feel free to post it. But I'm not going to run and look for that.

Johnny Northside! said...

Looks like this article got picked up by Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

I was a social work major in college, so it almost goes without saying that I took a look at the Americorps program. Like this article mentions, there was no way to make it work--for me, at least.

My first summer job after graduation was in northern Wisconsin and required travel, so I bought a modest, yet dependable car. As I examined my options as the summer came to a close, I did the numbers for Americorps. The stipend they offered at the time was only enough to cover rent for a one-bedroom apartment and my car payment, which I have to emphasize was NOT expensive (under $200 per month). I woulud not have enough money to eat or pay utilities or socialize.

Even if I sold my car, the stipend would have been just enough to pay the basics. Unless I took a second job (which the rules prohibited at the time) or got financial help from my family, there was quite literally no way to make it work.

If the pay was just a little bit more, I would have dedicated a year or perhaps two to the program.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Johnny Northside is ignorant about this program.
AmeriCorps is like an internship. Participants are not paid. They receive a small stipend to help cover expenses.
The program is a combination of learning and volunteerism.
The program is highly rated and praised.
It is a sister program of being Vista volunteer. People join the programs for the experience and to give to their community.
To say the program suffers because participants earn a small stipend is just plain ignorant.

Johnny Northside! said...

I see. Calling somebody an "intern" allows an employer to pay the person very little and work them hard.

I wonder how many people are getting in line for these amazing "internship opportunities."

Johnny Northside! said...

Thank you so much for sharing that, Hawthorne Hawkman.

Michelle said...

This article is a little harsh. I am an Americorps alum, who grew up in North Minneapolis. Although it is little, it is not intended to be wages, and you are not employees. The idea is that you are giving back for a year. Don't get me wrong, I worked like crazy, 60+ hour weeks often, but it's meant to be about the kids, about what you're giving. And at the end of the year, it's one of the greatest feelings around.

Staff generally are salaried around $30,000...and yes, the insurance is free, no premiums.

The problem isn't the program, it's the lack of value our government has placed in funding this program.

Michelle said...

Vista is not a sister program of Americorps, it is an Americorps program

Johnny Northside! said...

So you're basically getting paid with good feelings? Can I deposit those in the bank and write a check on those?

Anonymous said...

It is also a foot in the door for a job. Several Americorps volunteers have proven themselves to be amazing in their work with children and have been hired by the school. Many have their education degree.

Johnny Northside! said...

A FOOT IN THE DOOR, you say?

You know how many working class kids I have seen doing unpaid internships for a "foot in the door?" You know who can afford to work for NOTHING? The sons and daughters of rich people. It is shameful, these wages they don't even dare to call wages.

MCullen NE said...

Wow and I know for a fact that corporations and some government agencies ask employee's to volunteer one day a week. I believe it is for an hour or two so partial lunch so that makes me wonder if that also it part of the many openings? They can get the free to them volunteers and just forget about hiring folks. You know corporate America is pretty good at pushing volunteering plus it is rewarding to an employee.

Anonymous said...

I know a student who is participating in ameri corps. They are told from the beginning how much their stipend is. They can choose to participate or not. It is their choice. On the other hand I work at a university that requires internships before certain students graduate. A lot of students are not fortunate to find paid interns because non profits lack the funding to pay interns. Therefore to me it is an incentive for those especially those who are going into the education field to get some type of financial assistance. If you are passionate about your job sometimes a person will do what it takes to make an impression in a young child's life.

Johnny Northside! said...

By requiring internships, the colleges are participating in the economic victimization of their students. This internships game has been going on for a long time. Don't try to justify these crappy wages by AmeriCorps by pointing out there are situations even WORSE and students still have to endure them if it's a requirement for their graduation.