I'm not doing enough07 Jun 2020
I was reading Clair Minson’s article on how workforce development needs a reckoning. I’ve felt many of the same feelings.
“When I started focusing on the intersection of race, racism and workforce development, I was forced to face the reality that I too had played a role in keeping Black and other non-Black workers of color economically oppressed. By designing training programs to “meet the needs” of employers rather than challenging the institutional policies and practices of employers, I was upholding the status quo. Every time I framed the jobseekers I worked with as “low-skilled” I was reinforcing the negative cultural messages that Black people and other non-Black people of color aren’t skilled and therefore need to be “taught how to be job ready”. And every time I chose to connect jobseekers to low-wage, dead end jobs, I sealed the fate of their entire family because of the harsh reality that career advancement opportunities for Black and non-Black workers of color in predominantly white industries are rarely accessible to them.”
I’ve been working in workforce development for 2+ years. Here are the stories of some of the people that I’ve worked with:
- A young man was trying to make some money during the holiday season. He was commuting from his home in the Bronx to a UPS packing facility in Secaucus, NJ. His shift started in the middle of the night, after the last trains ran from NY to NJ and before the morning rush. He used to take the last train to NJ at 1 AM, and sit or sleep on a bench in the train station until his shift. He would bring his bike so he could bike from the Secaucus station to the UPS packing facility, all during the bitter cold of December.
- I sat with a woman and helped her apply for a job that required a valid driver’s license. She had to renew her license, as hers had expired. I sat with her as we went through multiple security steps to recover her bank password. Once we had logged in, I saw that her bank account had a balance of only $12.
- A man dreamed of opening up his own restaurant one day. In the meantime, he worked as a line cook at a restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. He lived in the Bronx, and he had to leave his home 2 hours before his shift started, simply because the NYC subway system was so unpredictable.
- A young man had to be sure that his job training wouldn’t interfere with his trips to the methadone clinic.
- A woman was working in an office in the suburbs of Connecticut. She was robbed and physically abused when walking back to her car at the end of the workday. This trauma resulted in years in and out of homelessness. She told me this because she didn’t know how to describe this gap in her resume to employers.
- Countless people could not write above an elementary school level, even though they had graduated high school or obtained their GED.
Workforce development is proven to help people get better jobs, higher pay, and more valued skills. But as a community, we are too often satisfied when someone goes from chronic unemployment to minimum wage, or from minimum wage to a low wage. Of course, these are steps in the right direction, but the predominantly black and brown people that we serve deserve better. I’ve been trying to figure out how best to support inequality-reducing initiatives these days.
Request for startup
We all know that social services are chronically underfunded. I was reading JVS’ Catapult Report over the weekend and learned about Social Impact Bonds, a blending of private and public capital. There are plenty of articles outlining the problems with social impact bonds, but service providers will tell you that there are plenty of challenges when getting paid by the government too. How these bonds work:
- A public entity, usually a state or local government, issues debt.
- That debt is purchased by private investors, and the money used to buy the debt is made available to a social service provider.
- If the social service provider delivers services that meet or exceed the goals, the private investors are repaid with a positive return by the government. The government pays this return when it can save money or increase its tax base due to the intervention.
Here is how it worked for JVS in Massachusetts:
“In the case of JVS’s PFS project, the 40 investors will be repaid based on successful wage gains for participating clients, determined by administrative wage data and independent evaluation. The benefit to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the short term is to try a new service delivery model at scale without financial risk, and in the long term reap the benefits of increased tax revenues.”
Social Impact Bonds are very expensive, time-consuming, and complex to set up. They can only work if the intervention can have a meaningful financial impact for the government. You need government buy-in, social service buy-in, investor buy-in, and independent auditor buy-in. But, they can be very effective.
Wealthfront and Betterment are robo-wealth managers that help people easily and passively invest their money. Through my work on Talk Hiring, I know that money is often the greatest constraint in a nonprofit. I wish there was a website where I could passively invest money into social impact bonds, and if they work, I’ll earn a return. I’m sure I’m not the only person who would be interested in something like this! If you find this interesting, feel free to reach out to me.
Reducing police funding
I’ll be supporting the cause of many community-based organizations to push for greater investments in social services and reductions in police funding. I’m not in favor of entirely gutting the police force, but I think that we should think hard about the trade-offs of every incremental dollar that we spend on policing instead of healthcare, education, mental health, transportation, etc. Police are first responders to calls of domestic violence, homelessness, and mental health; social service professionals might be more effective. Higher wages result in less crime. Amidst COVID-19 budget shortfalls, many supportive programs are being cut without any cuts to policing.
In the NYC area, I have been reaching out to my local City Council member, learning about how the budgeting process works, preparing to vote, and supporting local organizations. In all honesty, the process of learning how local budgets are made, actually taking the time to know the name and values of my local City Council member, and educating myself on the upcoming local elections has been eye-opening. If you believe in supporting the cause, check out this Google Sheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/0/d/18pWRSu58DpENABkYUJlZw1ltCPZft7KJc6lFaOZK8-s/htmlview#gid=804939284.
As Bryan Stevenson said in Just Mercy, “the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” I hope you’ll join me in trying to do more.