From Poverty to Sustainability

 

We are at a convergence of focus that affords us a unique opportunity for action.

The social service community is undertaking a concerted effort to identify and address the issue of poverty in our region. At the same time, the business community is shining a spotlight on the growing number of jobs going unfilled due to a lack of ready and skilled workers.

So why does this disconnect exist? The answer lies in the systemic way that these two groups have historically approached the problem.

Social services have traditionally focused on short-term, stop-gap programs that provide temporary relief. Even the name of our “welfare” program – TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – acknowledges this by its very name. Attempts to force-fit recipients into work are ineffective due to a lack of technical and life-skills training and ongoing supportive services, and contain no solid mechanism for transitioning to employment. Those who do secure work via these avenues often find themselves pushed off a cliff, moving from being the unemployed poor with a thin safety net of services to the working poor with no benefits at all.

Programs in the business community are equally ineffective at reducing long-term indigenous poverty. Employers are willing to provide some level of technical training, but are looking for job-ready workers. These employers often are quick to import a workforce from other regions or states, leading to an ever-widening gap. This helps to explain why Franklin County is among the wealthiest and fastest-growing in Ohio, yet also among the highest rates of poverty, infant mortality, uninsured residents, and chronic disease.

We must do more. We must do better.

We must focus on a new, holistic way of addressing these issues that couples social services that teach people the skills needed for work with economic incentives that encourage hiring of these residents. This concept of Making People Ready and Placing Ready People combines the best of what already exists, and adds wrap-around services for both workers and employers.

This is a novel approach that will not merely move people from welfare to work, but rather from poverty to self-sustainability. It is not focused on simply finding jobs, but on life skills, social services, and technical training that will allow people in poverty to secure and retain living wage jobs with benefits, to support themselves and their families, and to grow their communities. It is focused not simply on encouraging hiring, but on economic incentives and custom trained workers that will encourage employers to hire and retain existing Franklin County residents, providing them with job security and creating a new group of consumers with disposable income.

My team and I are leading an effort, along with my colleagues, County agencies, business leaders, and the non-profit sector, to formulate and implement this public-private collaboration this year. We must not and will not wait.

It will take all of us working together in innovative and collaborative ways to end poverty, provide workers to industries who need them, and grow our economic base more equitably. I, with my team, am committed to being on the leading edge of offering solutions that benefit all of Franklin County and the central Ohio region.

Published February 25, 2014