When you read through the proposed New York City budget for fiscal year 2011, many of the budget cuts don’t appear to be so terrible. And we are realists, and we know, when there’s not a ton of cash and when the state is mucking one around, cuts gotta come from somewhere! So, they want to close four pools, close a homeless drop-in center, close 50 senior centers, get rid of a bunch of firefighters, and apparently really do in assistance to the libraries. It gets a little more harrowing when you look at the total City worker layoffs and attrition: almost 11,000 people across the board, and more than half of those come from the Department of Education. (Also, more than half of the employment cuts are blamed on the New York State budget (and lack thereof).) The Observer points out today that long-term development projects retain commitment; $160 million in new funding for two parks, and the remakings of Coney Island and Willets Point don’t see cuts. There is a logic to that actually! Starting and abandoning things is terrible policy. But. You can’t have that when there’s one cut that’s obviously horrifying on its face. The budget item reads: “Eliminate City Funded Adult Literacy Programs Under Contract at Department of Youth and Community Development.”
This barely rated a mention in the Times’ immediate assessment of the budget-which is more than weird, since newspapers depend upon literacy for their survival, and something like one-third to as much as one-half of New Yorkers find themselves, at best, uncomfortable with reading (if not actually unable to read) the New York Times.
Let’s return to the demographics of New York City. More than one in three New York City residents immigrated from outside the U.S. Really not at all all of them arrived here fluent in English. Almost half of the City’s residents speak a language other than English at home. And even though the City makes steps to help with this-311 offers translation services from 170 or so languages! And there are a large number of adult literacy programs!-one of the commitments of any city has to be opportunity. More than anything else-more than capital, more than transportation, more even than health care-fluency is opportunity. Even if you want to start a business that caters solely to people who speak your non-English language, how are you going to deal with the state sales tax forms, and the filing forms? If you just want a simple on-the-books job, how will you even navigate employment applications? We’re basically better off closing half the firehouses than eliminating literacy programs. At least then it would be obvious that things are burning down. Like they are today at 14th and A!