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Subsidized jobs programs work

Written by Indivar Dutta-Gupta And Julie Kerksick | The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Nearly seven years after the end of the deepest recession in our lifetimes, the job market has in many ways returned to pre-recession levels. And yet there are far more people seeking work than jobs available. Unemployment and underemployment persist in many communities where the recovery lags. And some workers are left out even in the best of times.

Milwaukee has pockets of unemployment that are unacceptably high, with official estimates reaching 28.9% in some neighborhoods. The lack of jobs is especially alarming in African-American, Latino, Native American and immigrant communities.

But there is hope. Subsidized jobs programs are a particularly successful strategy and a necessary part of the solution. Subsidized jobs — often called transitional jobs — offer those seeking work the opportunity to earn a wage doing productive work, get training and receive other supportive services.

A new report by the Georgetown University Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, "Lessons Learned from 40 Years of Subsidized Employment Programs," details how effective subsidized jobs can be in fighting persistent poverty.

The report features the widely respected New Hope Project, which successfully tested a package of policies during the 1990s in Milwaukee, including making transitional jobs available to low-income adults and families. The results were remarkable. According to the report, "New Hope increased employment, earnings, and incomes." Most striking, it increased school achievement and positive behavior among children, especially boys. Marriage rates also increased. All this grew from a program that focused on adults, made work available and made work pay.

Other successful subsidized employment programs showed that offering subsidized employment to those who had returned to the community from incarceration resulted in them committing fewer subsequent crimes.

The bottom line, the study concluded, is that programs such as New Hope are smart investments that can be used as key tools to lower poverty rates, increase family well-being, and improve the next generation's chances for economic success.

There are many models of subsidized jobs programs. Some offer entry-level work experience, while others are embedded in skills training programs that lead to specific — and marketable — skills. Communities have used subsidies to meet needs that are not being met through existing public or private sector efforts. Small businesses have been able to test their ability to add workers to their permanent payroll, by participating in a subsidized employment program.

Wisconsin has demonstrated bipartisan support for subsidized employment, through the state's Transitional Jobs employment programs. The city of Milwaukee has added to the state's investment through Compete Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted TJM Innovations, one of the businesses working with the state's Transform Milwaukee program. TJM employs transitional workers and has offered permanent employment to a significant number of those workers over the past several years. These are entry-level manufacturing and production jobs, providing real work and relevant job experience to workers who had not been able to find employment.

But these programs, while beacons of hope and opportunity for those in them, are woefully limited in scale.

To tackle Milwaukee's economic and employment crisis, we need to expand innovative and effective policies. We know that subsidized jobs programs work — and from New Hope, we know they work in Milwaukee. We must substantially increase our investment in subsidized jobs. This not only will provide work and wages to those looking for work right now; it also will positively impact children growing up in poverty in Milwaukee and across our state.

Policy-makers on both sides of the aisle, at all levels, should come together with advocates and businesses to do what works to help every neighborhood recover from economic hardship.

Link to original article from The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Indivar Dutta-Gupta is director of the Project on Deep Poverty at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. Julie Kerksick, senior policy advocate at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, previously was the executive director of the New Hope Project, and worked on the creation of transitional jobs programs for the states of Wisconsin and Colorado.

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