“How much in life do you spend money on the last mile?” Gene Sperling, who was the director of the National Economic Council under Obama, asked me. “There are big, long-term unemployment problems, right? That’s complicated. Those are people who need a lot of help. They need a lot of support. Is that really the issue, or is the issue that the working poor are not making enough money to support their families? If you’re going to spend a trillion dollars on something huge …There’s an element here of people not thinking about what they’re actually trying to do.”
In a technocratic sense, perhaps. But the technocratic problems that a jobs guarantee poses are not impossible to solve.
There are good models. RecycleForce, for instance, cuts the recidivism rate of recently incarcerated individuals to 26 percent, versus a national rate of 64 percent, Keesling told me. And it saves the taxpayer $1.20 for every dollar invested. Surveys show that similar jobs programs have raised both earnings and employment rates for their participants, and also “decreased family public benefit receipt, raised school outcomes among the children of workers, boosted workers’ school completion, lowered criminal-justice system involvement among both workers and their children, improved psychological well-being, and reduced longer-term poverty,” a survey by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found. “There may be additional positive effects, such as increased child-support payments and improved health.”
Scaling up transitional jobs initiatives would be a good start, then. “There’s nothing resembling an entitlement that supports a person coming home from prison right now,” Sam Schaeffer, the executive director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a New York-based nonprofit that provides jobs and training to the formerly incarcerated in 20 cities, told me. “To really tackle this challenge, there should be some unifying mechanism, with a mix of workforce programs, anti-poverty programs, nutrition assistance, housing, and more. We’ll pay $82 billion a year to incarcerate people. We don’t make anything like a similar investment on reentry.”
There are also models stemming from TANF-EF. JobsNOW! in San Francisco offers a tiered program to help workers with different levels of readiness for a paid job. One tier pays participants while they enroll in job-readiness or vocational training, or a high-school diploma program. It also pays participants to do relatively low-skill work at a nonprofit. Finally, there is a wage-subsidy program, aimed at individuals with work experience. On top of that, the program provides case management and wraparound services, helping ensure that participants have Medicaid and food stamps. All in all, it has increased its 20,000 participants’ earnings by an average of 55 percent, and three in four no longer need cash assistance two-and-a-half years after exiting the program.