Thursday, August 21, 2008

Falling through the cracks

[Bettman/Corbis photo]

About a year ago, I met a gentleman named Rick, at a business after hours event hosted by our local Chamber of Commerce, here in Lewiston. We discussed what we did for work, and when he found out I was in workforce development, he told me about two rooming houses that he operates for unemployed and underemployed men in the city.

He was quite animated about how men were being left behind by all the various government programs that he was aware of, and paid taxes to support. He had very strong opinions about how this was wrong, and that it would continue to pose problems for the men that he domiciled. He also had an evident passion to provide an opportunity to a demographic that he felt was being kicked to the curb.

He and I exchanged information, and regularly, I’ve been sending him updates about various training programs I’ve been facilitating. On a couple of occasions, I’ve gone by these two rooming houses to actively recruit. Unfortunately, I’ve not had any takers, yet.

In running across this excellent article, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, I was reminded of my conversation with Rick.

This article highlights issues that are front and center for anyone involved in workforce development.

Tuhus-Dubrow’s article honestly looks at how poor men receive less help, as well as much more scorn heaped upon them, than women. Interestingly, while the “welfare queen” moniker still gets tossed around, it is more likely today that out of work men will receive demonization, and have derisive labels applied to their situation.

From her Boston Globe article, Tuhus-Dubrow writes,

The icon of the "undeserving poor," by contrast, has always been the able-bodied man. Although some programs in the New Deal and the War on Poverty provided them with jobs and training, social welfare policy has otherwise largely ignored men. One practical reason is that as a rule, aid to children - the paragons of vulnerability - has been channeled through mothers. Equally potent, though, is the longstanding cultural belief that men, barring economic disasters, should be able to take care of themselves. Today, especially, low-income men have an image problem. Many are convicts and "deadbeat dads," widely seen as deserving blame, not bailouts.

Because low-income men are more likely to turn to crime than females, this compounds the problem, as having a criminal history greatly diminishes employability, particularly if it involves a felony conviction.

A variety of innovative solutions are being looked at, from reducing child support debt for men, to aggressive efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society, and New York State’s efforts instituting wage subsidies.

Interestingly, both conservative critics, and feminist organizations equally oppose expenditures, such as New York’s.

One program, however, that is focusing its efforts on young men, is called Fathers at Work.

Sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Fathers at Work is a three-year national initiative designed to help young, noncustodial fathers achieve increased employment and earnings, greater involvement in their children’s lives, and more consistent financial support of their children. The Mott Foundation selected two national intermediaries to provide assistance and to evaluate Fathers at Work. The National Center for Nonprofit Planning and Leadership (NPCL) was asked to provide technical assistance on fatherhood and child support, while Public/Private Ventures was asked to provide assistance on employment and to evaluate the demonstration. Six pilot sites were selected, including sites in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.

Discounting segments of our population from work has been common in the past. Given our current demographics, this won’t work, and it violates the belief that every person has unique talents and abilities to society, which is what I believe, ought to motivate everyone who has a role to play in workforce development. Better yet, it is a comprehensive, holistic approach to poverty, not a segmented, ineffective approach, like our current one.

No comments: