By Chris Warland, Associate Director for Field Building, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
Job quality for entry-level workers in the US is pretty dismal. The minimum wage is historically very low when adjusted for inflation, wage theft and other violations of wage and hour laws are commonplace, and employers often limit workers to part-time status or misclassify them as independent contractors in order to avoid offering benefits or paying overtime. New scheduling software allows employers to assign workers for short, unpredictable shifts in a way that maximizes profit but makes it difficult to plan transportation, arrange for childcare, or work more than one job (which is often necessary when you’re limited to part-time work).
We know that just getting a job is often not enough to allow an individual or family to escape poverty in America. There are millions of “working poor” Americans for whom the promise of hard work as a means to stability and security has not materialized. Over sixty-five percent of households living in poverty contain at least one working adult.
If transitional jobs programs succeed only in moving job seekers from chronic unemployment into low-wage, low-quality jobs, we have failed. We are merely adding to the numbers of the “working poor”—and we can do better.
Re-examining Reentry: Transitional Jobs as a Strategic Investment in Individuals, Families, and Communities
When it comes to employment, too many formerly incarcerated individuals find themselves out of a job. It’s no secret that the United States has seen a recent explosion in its prison population—more than 2 million people in this country are incarcerated, and each year about 700,000 people are released from state prisons back into their communities. Many of these returning citizens come home to urban neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and an array of social problems. And, as our brief about working with job seekers newly released from prison points out, these folks desperately need paid employment—many reentering individuals can’t afford such basics as clothing, medical treatment, housing, or even food.