In our first Board meeting after opening our doors we meet to discuss the problem. It was an intense conversation with diverse views but in the end we all agreed on one point – the people we had counseled didn’t really want a job. They talked a good game but they were really after something else – a free handout, such as food or a bus pass, or confirmation of their job search to stay on unemployment benefits. We surmised that the reason they were not serious about employment was varied and included the following:
- Wages were too low
- Adversity to work
- Unrealistic job expectations
- Dependency on welfare or charity
- Addiction to drugs or alcohol
The surprising thing was that employers were very receptive to our plans and shared plenty of job opportunities with us. They desperately needed help but could not find good employees. They would explain that too many people didn’t know how to work or would do a good job but then a problem would arise and they would not come back to work. It could be as complex as drugs or alcohol or as simple as a broken down car. As a new Employment Agency we wanted to bridge that gap. We wanted to go the extra mile – to help people with the challenges in their life; housing, clothes, etc.; and get them in a stable work environment. But here we were after two month, a grand opening in a new office, finding 40 people we felt we could help and yet no success whatsoever.
Like so many in the charity world we wanted our compassion to be enough. But it wasn’t. More important than our desire was our client’s desire. It is a common problem working with the poor in our nation today. The culture in which we seek to deliver help often overwhelms our ability to help. Once we recognized the problem we changed our focus to work with only those who demonstrated they truly wanted to go back to work. We decided we couldn’t change the culture of the times or the desire of the people. We could offer jobs but we couldn’t persuade anyone to take them.
We got refocused and after our first year of operations these were the statistics:
Total individuals that came to CPS for inquiries into jobs – 548
Clients that went through the CPS interview and assessment process – 286
Clients that found a job on their own with some form of employment counseling – 136
Clients placed in a job by CPS counselors – 43
In the end we raised and spent about $20,000 and found 43 jobs for people - that equates to about $500 per job found. From my perspective that is a pretty good deal in the poverty and welfare world. That $500 went a long way in establishing economic health for the worker and the community. Still, it breaks my heart that so many we talked to did not go back to work. Low wages combined with a culture of entitlement, poor life skills and often dependency on handouts is a dysfunctional brew. If that sounds like blaming the victim, I don’t intend that. I’m just standing here with jobs watching those without them walk away. Americans know the value of work (See Welfare Opinion Page) and this is a disturbing circumstance.
We need to change the culture of poverty and much of the problem stems from a dysfunctional welfare system. The dysfunction is laid out in the Welfare Issues Page; fixing it is laid out on the Welfare Reform Page. Until we change the culture of poverty we won’t see a reduction in people opting out of work.