Five Good Ideas to Combat Poverty in America

By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

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With midterm elections only a few weeks away, politicians are busy on the campaign trail talking to millions of Americans about our nation’s challenges and their plans for how to address them effectively. As candidates frame the issues, debate ideas, and seek to draw voters to the polls, we believe there’s one pressing issue that deserves to be on the top of the agenda: poverty.

The most recent poverty data show that 14.5 percent of Americans, or 45.3 million people, live in poverty. Nearly 20 million Americans are considered extremely poor which, for a family of three, means living on less than about $9,000 per year. Digging deeper into these numbers, nearly one in five children lives in poverty and as many as 6.5 million children live in families that are extremely poor. Hispanics and African-Americans represent 30 percent of the total population, but 52.5 percent of the population living in poverty.

We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to support themselves and their families and that no one should live in poverty. As we enter the final weeks of the 2014 election season, we have five anti-poverty strategies that we’d like to see candidates talking about—and taking action on once they’re in office.

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Through Employment, Larkin Street Helps Youth “Get off the Street for Good”

By Caitlin C. Schnur, Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

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In preparation for an upcoming best practice guide on employment services for youth, we’ve spent the past few weeks in conversation with practitioners and program administrators in the field to gather and lift up their expertise in helping at-risk young job seekers succeed in employment. Recently, we sat down with Jamie Fountain, Associate Director of Workforce Development at Larkin Street Youth Services. Located in San Francisco, Larkin Street got its start in the 1980s serving bagged lunches to youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch neighborhood. Today, Larkin Street has 25 programs across 14 program sites and offers youth experiencing and at-risk of homelessness a comprehensive set of services including housing, medical care, and education and employment services via Larkin’s Hire Up program. While in Hire Up, youth can receive job readiness training, learn computer and technology skills, earn wages as part of supervised, entry-level work crew, and participate in paid internships with local businesses and organizations.

Larkin Street recognizes that youth’s success in employment is critical to its mission to “help kids get off the street for good.” In this conversation, Jamie talks about how “failure” yields innovation, the power of supportive relationships in helping youth get and keep jobs, and why it’s important to celebrate success along the journey to sustainable employment.

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Advancing Employment Opportunities for those with Mental Illness

By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

 Counselor

In recent months, mental illness and its repercussions have received an increasing amount of attention. This is in large part due to startling and public tragedies such as Robin Williams’ death and the spate of horrific mass shootings across the country. While these events deservedly garner a rush of headlines and national attention, it’s important to remember that millions of Americans struggle with the day-to-day impacts of mental illness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that upwards of twenty percent of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness and 10 million of these individuals have a “serious mental illness.”

For many of these individuals, having a serious mental health condition acts a significant barrier to employment and economic well-being. This is especially true for already-vulnerable individuals, including people experiencing homelessness and people returning home from incarceration. At Heartland’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity, we believe that every person deserves the opportunity to work and support themselves and their families. In recognition of World Mental Health Day on October 10 and Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), the National Initiatives team is highlighting why it’s critical to address the employment needs of people with mental illness and offers some strategies for doing so.

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Innovations in Child Support Policy: 3 Ways to Increase Employment + Economic Opportunity for Noncustodial Parents

By James Jones, B.MORE Initiative Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

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In 1995, President William “Bill” Clinton proclaimed August National Child Support Awareness Month.  The goal was to raise awareness about the critical role child support plays in the lives of millions of American children.  Clinton was responding to a social problem that appeared to be on the rise.  In the mid-nineties, there was a growing percentage of single parent households in America and children in those households had a high chance of suffering from poverty. Today, almost two decades later, the child support program serves half of all poor children in the country and 17 million children in total.

While many noncustodial parents want to be involved with their children, many also 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 steady income is a major barrier to fulfilling parental obligations.  At the same time, child support payments represent a significant portion of the income of families living in poverty.  Oftentimes, these payments are responsible for keeping children out of extreme poverty.

The National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity team is focused on developing and expanding sustainable policy solutions that benefit children and increase employment and economic opportunities for low-income noncustodial parents.  To that end, this July we led a strategic policy/advocacy planning and campaign development summit with our partners at Connections to Success (CtS) in Missouri and Kansas.  Working with Connections’ leadership and program staff, we equipped them to identify and advance child support policies in Missouri that could better support low-income, noncustodial fathers’ efforts to access employment opportunities, support their children, and advance in the labor market.  Drawing from our training with CtS, in this blog we’re highlighting three child support policy innovations that would increase employment and economic opportunity for low-income parents.

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Getting Colorado Back to Work: Transitional Jobs Benefit Business + Workers

By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

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In July 2013, the Colorado state legislature passed the Colorado Careers Act (HB13-1004) establishing ReHire Colorado – an innovative and forward-thinking transitional employment program to be administered by the Colorado Department of Human Services. Using transitional jobs as the central mechanism, ReHire aims to stimulate the local economy and address unemployment by putting unemployed Coloradans back on the path to work with wage paid work with local employers. In order to implement the program, the state awarded contracts to five local service providers – one being the Larimer County Workforce Center in Northern Colorado.

The Workforce Center serves both jobseekers and businesses through an array of training, educational, and internship programs. Adam Crowe, the Business Development Manager at the Workforce Center, reminds us that “work is such a key component of who we are as humans that I think it is easy to forget about at times.”

Recently, the NTJN had the chance to talk with Adam about the Workforce Center’s success in using transitional employment and strong relationships with employer partners in attacking poverty and unemployment in Northern Colorado.

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