The City’s 200,000 Lost Souls

With so much attention focused on Iraq, we have hardly noticed the buildup of another army-an army in our midst. Across the nation, some 5.5 million young men and women between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed, with so few prospects that many have given up hope of finding a job.

The figures come from a study conducted by Northeastern University in Boston. The researchers estimate that in New York, some 200,000 young people in that age group are neither employed nor in school. Without hope, they spend their time on the streets, often getting into trouble that would have been avoided if only they had work. The number of people between 16 and 24 who are out of work and out of school has risen by 12 percent in the last two years or so. And it may get even worse as the economy continues to stagnate and the bill comes due for our impending war in the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration doesn’t talk about these problems, other than to assure us that more tax cuts are the answer. Sooner or later, however, Washington will have to turn its attention to these battalions of young people who are on the verge of disappearing into the economic and social abyss.

The price of ignoring this problem isn’t hard to imagine: higher crime rates, more alienation and quite possibly social unrest. Washington’s insistence on cutting social and outreach programs aimed at training young people is absurdly counterproductive. We cannot afford to let a generation of dropouts remain outside of the education system and labor market.

We’ve been assured that we are so rich and so mighty that we can fight two wars at a time overseas. Isn’t it time that we spend some of our resources on our young people? As the President himself points out from time to time, they do, in fact, represent the nation’s future.

The Good Marriage Rx

Everyone knows that marriage is no walk in the park. But the next time you experience a dip in marital harmony, you might want to remind your partner that the latest research shows that as long as your marriage isn’t truly lousy, you’re actually good for each other’s health.

“Marriage is sort of like a life preserver or a seat belt,” Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, recently told The New York Times. “We can put it in exactly the same category as eating a good diet, getting exercise and not smoking.” Continuing studies have shown that people in stable, durable marriages have less disease and live longer than single folks. The Times notes that unmarried couples who have lived together for several years also get the benefit. But recent research has also found that marriage or cohabitation by themselves are no miracle cure: People in bad marriages turn up with more physical ailments than swinging singles. There are also indications that women suffer more than men, physically and emotionally, in a creaky marriage. Men, it seems, may in fact be better off even in a lousy marriage than alone: Middle-aged single men in most developed countries are twice as likely to die as their betrothed brethren.

A good marriage can also inspire someone to get well. Dr. James Coyne, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that marriage affects one’s ability to recover from congestive heart failure. As he told The Times , “Even when your own determination to get better wavers, the commitment to your partner puts you back on track.” He added that bad marriages can have the opposite effect: “Some of these people, if their spouses said, ‘Breathe for the next half-hour,’ they’d try to hold their breath. It can get that stubborn in a bad marriage.” Dr. Coyne videotaped heart patients at home, and discovered that those who were the most negative with their mates were 1.8 times as likely to die within four years.

Men and women in bad marriages were also found to have more gum disease and cavities. Which means that staying in a bad marriage may not only send you to marriage counseling-worse, you might end up at the dentist’s office.

N.Y.U.’s Child Study Center Makes a Difference

It’s no secret that even in the best schools, kids will not achieve academic excellence without strong positive reinforcement from teachers and an environment which is sensitive to each student’s individual needs. But with the current state of New York City public education, it’s rare that students are provided with a nurturing classroom experience. Teachers are asked to meet the myriad needs of kids who are entering the city’s schools from vastly different cultures and who come with wide-ranging levels of academic preparation and emotional maturity. It’s clear that some sort of powerful intervention is needed to create a sense of mission and community among teachers and students who are caught up in the city’s sprawling school system. Fortunately, there are those who see possibilities where others see nothing but obstacles. The New York University Child Study Center, a pioneer in mental-health care for children and their families, has created the Unique Minds School Program to help transform even the most dysfunctional classrooms into places of hope.

Using the latest and best social-science research, the Unique Minds program shows teachers how to cultivate emotional intelligence in their students as well as behavioral and social skills, including stress management and conflict resolution-all of which have been shown to have a strong effect on academic achievement. The aim is to create a positive and cooperative classroom with a high degree of acceptance and a low degree of shame or humiliation; no one is tagged as a “problem child.” When placed in such an environment, children are more motivated to learn and will be less likely to act out, and teachers are less likely to burn out. A preliminary study indicates that the Unique Minds program results in increased academic aptitude and improvements in attention, concentration and the ability to solve social problems. Unique Minds is run by Dr. Marcia Stern, who has been an educator and psychologist in New York’s public schools for 25 years. In Brooklyn, P.S. 102 has implemented the program; the principal reports that the overall tone of the school has improved and that there’s been a decline in aggressive behavior.

The Unique Minds program is just part of the way that N.Y.U.’s Child Study Center is transforming the way in which children’s mental health is viewed and treated in America. The center came about largely because of the vision and determination of N.Y.U.’s Harold S. Koplewitz, M.D. In five short years, Dr. Koplewitz and his staff of extraordinary professionals have made the Child Study Center into a world-class institution that has already brought incalculable benefit to parents, children, teachers, mental-health professionals and policymakers.