Good Jobs, Good Pay: How a Major Bank Seeks to Boost Youth Employment in the South Bronx

A housing project in the south bronx

A housing project in the south bronx

JPMorgan Chase holds assets worth $2.5 trillion, and last year, it made profits of $24.7 billion, a new record. The bank's charitable giving has risen, too. While many people might not associate JPMorgan Chase with philanthropy, its corporate responsibility arm engages in grantmaking on par with the nation's top private foundations. JPMorgan Chase says that in 2016, the firm and its foundation "gave more than $200 million to thousands of nonprofit organizations across 49 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and 40 countries."

That's a lot of grant money spread far and wide, which is why we report so often on what this funder is doing. Whatever you may think of the financial sector, which has serious ongoing ethical problems, you should keep an eye on JPMorgan's philanthropy if you work in the nonprofit world—particularly if you work in urban areas.  

Along with other top banks, JPMorgan has become a top funder of programs to help low-income youth, especially in cities, by readying them for successful careers. Through its New Skills for Youth initiative, the bank is giving $75 million to make urban youth more competitive in the job market. This coincides with another $250 million through New Skills at Work to improve the job readiness of adults. 

This year, the firm’s workforce development grantmaking has chugged along with $20 million in January for state-based solutions to the “skills gap,” and $6.6 million this month to boost healthcare jobs. JPMorgan’s goal is to make “middle-skill” jobs, like those in healthcare, more accessible to an underemployed workforce stuck in low-wage service positions. 

(It's worth noting that many jobs at JPMorgan Chase deliver lousy pay, with Glassdoor estimating the average base pay of tellers at the bank at $12 an hour—money that's hard to live on in many metro areas. Given its record profits last year, the bank could easily afford to help young, urban lower-income workers simply by raising its own wages.)

This month, Chase is giving another $6 million to youth in the bank’s home city of New York. Targeting high school students in the South Bronx, an area that struggles with high youth unemployment, the gift will “connect employers and South Bronx career and technical education programs.” JPMorgan cites an abundance of NYC jobs in the transportation, distribution and logistics sector starting at a respectable $45,000 per year—with opportunities to advance. These middle-skills jobs are available to workers without a bachelor’s degree, but do require training beyond a high school diploma. Strategies at play involve apprenticeships, increased employer engagement with low-income youth, and a data system to better coordinate career opportunities for youth. 

As with its recent healthcare jobs grant, the bank’s strategy leans heavily on partnerships. JPMorgan is partnering with local nonprofits like New Visions of Public Schools, the Consortium for Worker Education, Per Scholas, and the New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (NYACH). NYACH is a subsidiary program of the New York City Workforce Innovation Fund, a public-private partnership with the city of New York. On the funding side, some resources for the project come from JPMorgan’s fund in the New York Community Trust.  

The bank has experience funding projects like these. For example, in 2015, JPMorgan directed a New Skills at Work grant to CareerWorks, a Newark-based collaborative that helps local job seekers acquire skills and connects them to employers. 

These strategies match JPMorgan’s nationwide approach to youth employment and job skills. They also indicate potential for more philanthropy in a key niche. Lately, nearly all the big banks have been pouring philanthropic resources into job skills, education for urban youth, and boosting employment. While the banks’ giving in this area is self-interested to some degree—they have an eye on meeting their long-term labor needs in urban areas—the sheer resources they bring to the table could make a difference.