Something’s Missing in the Debate on Jobs: Do the Candidates Have a Plan to Get America’s Most Vulnerable Job Seekers Back to Work?

Melissa Young, Associate Director, NTJN

Image (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

With close to 23 million people looking for work and nearly 3.5 job seekers for every 1 job, the Presidential candidates have a lot to say about jobs this election year, but something is missing from the debate – a plan to get America’s most vulnerable jobseekers back to work.   People returning home from prison, youth not connected to work or school, recipients of public assistance, people experiencing homelessness, non-custodial parents, veterans, refugees,  immigrants and many others often lack the income, flexibility, time, and basic education and skills required to qualify and succeed in the education and training programs the candidates have proposed as a catch-all solution to unemployment. Many unemployed Americans require a different sort of solution – Fortunately, we have one.

The supply-side focus of the jobs debate has almost wholly focused on re-tooling the skills and education of American job seekers in order to meet employers’ demands. We agree that education and training are important and necessary in maintaining American economic competitiveness and improving the self-sufficiency of individuals and families. What concerns us about this election year dialogue on jobs is that it has largely left out a discussion about real employment solutions for the millions of individuals across the country for whom employment is chronically out of reach.

These individuals face barriers to employment such as little or no current work experience; few or insufficient skills; lack of transportation or child care; and limited English skills or basic literacy and numeracy. When given the opportunity, these job seekers can and do successfully work and give back to society in taxes paid and reduced taxpayer expenditures on incarceration and benefits receipt.

America’s invisible and often forgotten job seekers are often not captured in official calculations – but estimates suggest that their unemployment rates are well above double-digits – far higher than 7.8 percent. Many of these job seekers have never collected unemployment insurance, nor have they benefitted from tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that help lift millions above the poverty line, and they will not in the future unless they are provided with the type of employment solutions we know benefit individuals with barriers to employment and their families.

When faced with a lack of employment prospects these invisible job seekers all too often surface in America’s criminal justice, homeless, child support, public assistance, and other systems. What’s more, the lack of consistent employment can negatively affect the educational attainment and upward mobility of their children. Doing nothing to connect these job seekers to employment and focusing exclusively on training or re-training dislocated or more skilled workers ultimately erodes America’s economic competitiveness and further widens the gap between  America’s  “haves” and the “have nots.”

At the National Transitional Jobs Network, we believe that every person deserves the opportunity to work and support themselves and their families and that America is stronger when everyone who wants to work can find a job. We think Transitional Jobs strategies are a key part of the solution for supporting transitions to work for individuals with barriers to employment. Transitional Jobs combine wage-paid work, job skills training, and supportive services to help individuals facing barriers to employment succeed in the workforce.  These proven strategies positively benefit individuals, employers, and communities across the country. For example:

Transitional Jobs programs get people working who would not otherwise be employed. Transitional Jobs programs are targeted at individuals who, if it was not for the strategy, would be unemployed.  Transitional Jobs programs keep individuals employed and earning a paycheck to meet their basic needs even in very weak labor markets.

Transitional Jobs programs contribute to the receipt of employment-based tax credits, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. Because wage-paid, real work is at the core of the Transitional Jobs strategy, workers contribute to earning wage-based tax incentives such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is proven to lift individuals and families out of poverty. In addition, Transitional Jobs workers pay into social insurance programs and become eligible to receive unemployment insurance and Social Security.

Transitional Jobs programs increase federal and state revenues. In one study, these programs generated nearly $13.6 millionin federal income, Medicare, and Social Security taxes and over $2.7 millionin state income tax.

Transitional Jobs programs promote pro-social behavior and orient job seekers around work.  There is evidence that Transitional Jobs help participants make positive changes in their choices and behavior, as demonstrated by reductions in recidivism among Transitional Jobs participants who have recently been released from incarceration.

Transitional Jobs programs positively contribute to the economic health of communities. The wages paid to participants are immediately spent in local communities by individuals who must provide for their basic needs. In turn, this increases local demand for goods and services.  In one study, demand for goods and services increase by over $5 million because of the Transitional Jobs program.

Transitional Jobs save taxpayer dollars. Transitional Jobs programs contribute to lowering recidivism and re-arrest and decrease reliance on public benefits. In a recent study, the program contributed to significantly decreased rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration – these findings are difficult to achieve and rarely seen.

Transitional Jobs programs positively contribute to the economic health of employers. Transitional Jobs programs have shown to positively benefit private employers by increasing productivity, financial well-being, and customer satisfaction.

Transitional Jobs programs contribute to the success of children. These programs positively impact the lives of children as evidenced by better long-term educational outcomes. These programs support parental engagement by noncustodial parents and the earned income generated through these programs positively benefits children and families.

The benefits of these programs far outweigh the costs. A recent evaluation of a reentry-focused TJ program found that every $1 invested in the program yielded up to almost $4 in returned benefits to the community and taxpayer.

Transitional Jobs programs are not the panacea for solving all of America’s jobs woes – but they are an important part of the solution in meeting the employment needs of individuals with barriers to employment, making America more competitive in the long-term, improving the lives of children, and contributing to the economic health of employers and communities.

With 19 days and 1 Presidential debate left until Americans go to the polls this November, there’s still time for our Presidential candidates to talk about the role that Transitional Jobs could play in an inclusive national economic recovery. Given what’s at stake, we encourage them to do so.

 

 

 

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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