Recently I was stumped in a radio interview when asked to highlight government programs I had come across that have successfully helped the jobless. It surprised–and disappointed–me that nothing stood out. After the interview, of course, I did remember interviewees from Not Working mentioning a couple of programs on more than one occasion.
S.A.F.E.R. grants, distributed by FEMA, have been instrumental in the reemployment of firefighters and other emergency services personnel across the country. And though it is less directly connected to reemployment, the ARRA supplement, which helped the unemployed by covering 65% of the cost of COBRA, was often sighted with great appreciation by the jobless whom I met. (Unfortunately the program expired at the beginning of 2011.)
The truth is, much of the hard work being done to get people back to work is being done by private citizens and organizations that survive on a mix of funding from foundations and government–along with plenty of hours put in by overworked, skeletal staffs.
Places like the Reno Bike Project, which calls upon the unemployed to rehabilitate bicycles abandoned in the nearby Black Rock Desert after the annual Burning Man Festival — then gives those bikes to the unemployed so that they have transportation to interviews.
More recently I discovered two other creative organizations that I encourage everyone to check out and support if possible.
And the second is Southwest Housing Solutions, which runs several programs that seek lasting employment for 18-24 year-olds who are estranged from the labor force. Much of the media attention during this depression has been focused on older workers fighting agism as they try to re-enter the work force — and rightly so, as this is a intensely serious problem.
But the fact is, those who are just entering the workforce are finding a landscape overcrowded with candidates and short on opportunity. This is a difficult situation to walk into with a college degree (and debt) and presumably some experience working remedial jobs. But entering this workforce is nearly impossible for those coming from unstable childhoods, without literacy or a high school diploma or consistent shelter. Southwest Housing Solutions focuses on getting these young workers into the Detroit labor force. It is important and grossly under-appreciated work.
We need more creative leaders, from the public and private spheres, ready to come up with more models like these to put people back to work. My message to anyone running for any public office: I’m all ears.