6 Good Ideas to Fight Unemployment

By Melissa Young, Associate Director, NTJN

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Last week, President Obama put forward an ambitious vision for his second Presidential term in his State of the Union address, including six good ideas to fight unemployment, grow good jobs at home, and ensure that no one who works full time lives in poverty. Whether or not his vision will gain traction within the contentious ranks of our divided Congress over the course of the next four years remains to be seen. Meanwhile, in the coming months at the National Transitional Jobs Network, we’re poised to continue to fight for federal policies that get chronically unemployed Americans back to work.

Here are the six good ideas the President proposed last week:

1. Creating Pathways to Jobs For All Americans. The president put forward “an ambitious plan in his budget to support summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth and put the long-term unemployed and low-income adults back to work.”America’s stubbornly high unemployment is largely due to a broad-based lack of demand for workers. Almost 23 million people are unemployed or underemployed, bringing the real unemployment rate to more than 14.4 percent. The length of unemployment remains daunting, with the average duration stretching to 35 weeks with four out of ten workers jobless for more than six months. Given this, national coalitions including the NTJN,  Half In Ten and many others have urged the president to include measures like the Pathways Back to Work Act  in his agenda – aimed at providing subsidized employment and transitional jobs for youth, the long-term unemployed, and low-income Americans along with job training to get unemployed Americans back to work, improve communities, and benefit employers.

 2. Encouraging and Strengthening Families. The president proposed to “support and encourage fatherhood including working with the faith community and the private sector.”

Many low-income non-custodial fathers are part of the child support system. The child support program serves half of all poor children in the United States and 17 million children in total. While many noncustodial fathers want to be involved with their children, many live in poverty and lack the resources to financially provide for their children. Most unpaid child support is owed by these parents and for many the lack of a steady income is a major barrier to fulfilling parental obligations.Because of this, we urge the administration to continue to expand resources aimed at implementing and advancing employment solutions in order to support pathways to economic opportunity for low-income fathers and noncustodial parents.

3. Transitioning Veterans to Civilian Employment. The president assured us that the “Administration remains committed to…efforts to encourage the hiring of veterans through tax credits and private sector partnerships, and to ensure the military’s transition program creates ‘career-ready’ vets.”

Unemployment rates for new veterans are higher than rates for veterans of other veteran cohorts and will require a range of supports – including targeted employment services and supports – to reintegrate. We encourage the president and administration to work with the Veterans Administration, the VA hospital community across the country, and community-based organizations to encourage the expansion of transitional employment programs benefiting veterans facing barriers to employment or chronic unemployment. Existing programs should be expanded to meet the employment needs of a greater number veterans with employment barriers and additional resources should be leveraged to expand transitional jobs programs in communities to meet the needs of veterans.

4. Raising the Minimum Wage. The president called on Congress “to raise the federal minimum wage for working Americans in stages so that it reaches $9 an hour in 2015, raise the tipped minimum wage, and index it for inflation.”

As the president noted, under current law, a full-time worker with two children earning the minimum wage will still raise his or her family in poverty. As the Center for American Progress notes, this basic wage floor has lost 30 percent of its buying power since the 1960s due to a failure to index the minimum wage to inflation. Improving the quality of jobs in America – first and foremost by making work pay – is essential to improving the lives of millions of Americans and their families. We encourage policymakers to take up and pass measures to raise and index the minimum wage. Along with the Center for Law & Social Policy and others we encourage attention to other measures to improve the quality and flexibility of work for millions of American workers and their families including mandating paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and expanding the Family Medical Leave Act.

5. Creating Good Jobs at Home. The president proposed a number of measures to bring good jobs back to the U.S including a range of initiatives focused on spurring investment in advanced manufacturing and clean energy, Project Rebuild aimed at rebuilding communities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, and long-term increases in surface transportation funding and school repair.

In order to ensure that these investments continue to expand the middle class, we urge the administration to ensure that these proposed funds and new initiatives support onramps to good jobs for all Americans – including minorities, women, and those facing chronic unemployment. Through transitional jobs and on-the-job-training opportunities, proportional investment in education and job skills training, and targeted hiring requirements, we can support equitable access to good jobs for all Americans.

6. Training the Next Generation of Workers. The president also proposed a number of efforts to ensure that we continue to educate and train workers to ensure that America can fill the jobs of today and the future.

His proposals to better prepare high school graduates to compete in a high-tech economy through secure investments in worker training will help ensure that American workers are prepared to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. We urge the administration to continue to chart a pathway toward an inclusive economy where our public education and workforce systems work for all.

Together let’s get #AmericaBack2Work. Supporting economic growth and getting unemployed Americans back to work should be one of the most pressing national priorities. The extent to which federal policy, resources, and public commitment will promote access to employment opportunities and supports for individuals facing chronic unemployment remains unclear. As policymakers debate the future of major safety net programs and public investments in workforce development, job training, and job creation programs, millions of individuals continue to experience chronic unemployment, hardship, and poverty. Indeed, the next four years will continue to force critical debate and decisions about the future of our nation’s public investments and policy direction on behalf of the chronically unemployed for decades to come.

Over the next four years you can be sure we’ll be paying attention and weighing-in as these and other solutions that help get chronically unemployed Americans back to work unfold.  Join us in this fight by signing up for our news and action alerts, following us on twitter, and liking our facebook page. Support our work and access resources to improve your organization’s efforts to help the chronically unemployed by becoming a member of the National Transitional Jobs Network today.

Photo Credit: The White House/Facebook

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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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