You have been imprisoned twice for a total of 8 years for non-violent offenses, both incarcerations related to drug use, drug sales, and property theft. You are off drugs now. You had no legal employment prior to your first imprisonment, but landed a job when you left prison in 2008; unfortunately you were laid off in 2009 as the economy worsened.
Unemployed, you succumbed to drugs again and committed the same crimes. You got your GED the second time in prison. A few gang-related tattoos are visible above your shirt collar, and there’s a scar on your face, the result of a prison fight that you did not cause. With a young child at home and a woman you love, you are determined to follow a different path this time. Your body and voice are strong, but your grammar is weak. You have no money for higher education. And, by the way, you live in Detroit where unemployment remains high. Your girlfriend, who has a low wage retail job, needs her mom’s help with childcare; so leaving Detroit is out of the question. You are 31 and black.
Your task is to find a living wage job to support your family. What steps could you take? (Remember, your Reality TV you lacks the track record, experience and upbringing that makes job searcghes relatively easy for people like me and your real life you.)
The smartest thing you could do is head to a social enterprise, a non-profit largely reliant on earned income, whose purpose is often to serve those facing employment challenges. Los Angeles Chrysalis is one. (You have to admire a non-profit whose website link is changelives.org!) It serves 3000 homeless and hard-to-employ people a year. Its philosophy is “a steady job is the single most important step in a person’s transition out of poverty and onto a pathway to long-term self-sufficiency.” Chrysalis Enterprises, which provides street maintenance, facilities management and temporary staffing, employs some of the Chrysalis participants in “sheltered work.”
Sheltered work environments offer job training and teaches soft jobs skills that enhance participants’ future employment potential. Once graduates are employed outside the sheltered setting, they continue to receive “retention support” from these non-profits.
A recent Mathematica Policy Research analysis shows that Chrysalis and six other social enterprises in the study produce high benefits not just for the participants but also for taxpayers. (REDF, a California non-profit that funds and provides support services to social enterprises focused on employment, six of whom were in the study, paid for the study.)
In the study, 69% of participants had a criminal record, 29% lacked a GED or HS degree. The average age was 41. Here are some before and after numbers for this population:
- BEFORE: 25% were never employed; 37% were unemployed in the prior year, and 84% were currently unemployed.
AFTER: 51% of people in sheltered work programs were employed one year after starting their social enterprise work, a 33-point increase in their employment rate. The comparison group was workers in the Chrysalis labor pool but not in its sheltered work program. Their employment rate was 37%.
- BEFORE: 71% of participants’ income came from government benefits.
AFTER: Government support as a share of income dropped to 24% as total monthly income increased from $653 to $1,246, a 91% gain.
- BEFORE: 85% lacked stable housing in the last 12 months.
AFTER: Housing stability tripled.
For every $1 the social enterprise spent, society received $2.23 in benefits and $1.31 in taxpayer savings. Retention support programs increased the return.
The lesson for me is that we have models that work — for the participants and for society — to address the crushing situation facing the hard-to-employ. The Mathematica study showed new and smaller social enterprises did not generate the returns of the larger, more established ones, so the key is to scale the successful ones. Finding capital to accomplish this is, therefore, critical.
An alternative is to offer more sheltered work in established for-profit companies. Here the benefits would include co-workers feeling they were helping people most in need of help. With a growing rate of long-term unemployment, public policy should create stronger incentives for companies to hire those facing employment challenges.
Imagine if Manpower, Adecco or a local staffing agency (like QTI) decided to expand its scope to advance the placement of hard-to-employ people. It could leverage its employer connections and, by collaborating with social service agencies, add wrap-around services to help these workers succeed in landing work and retaining it. What a difference that would make!
We all say we want to help every American have job opportunities. What are you doing as an organizational leader to put action behind your values and hopes?
© Plantes Company, 2015
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