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