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Workforce Development and Advocacy for the Poor

Ward 8 has an unemployment rate of 28.5% — the highest in the US.
Ward 8 has an unemployment rate of 28.5% — the highest in the US.
Bread for the City

It is said that knowledge is power! That being said, consider the changing trends in the employment field and you could almost go stir crazy trying to keep up with how to access employment resources/opportunities, find your way through the barriers and conquer the demons of job seeking. While it is understandable for any entity to have standards that will attract the ‘right fit’ employee; it is equally unreasonable for policies to be created that increases those barriers by denying access, over-inflating qualifications and therefore decreasing opportunities to conquer your employment beast. At a recent conference, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), under the Administration for Children and Families of the U. S. Department of Health, this became all but too clear. They held their 17th Annual Welfare, Research and Evaluation Conference (WREC at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC. This event could not have been timelier as it marked the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty. Amongst other critical topics affecting the impoverished, the conference focused on Workforce Development ( While the workshops, plenary and host of facilitators and guest speakers provided research findings and strategies to address workforce development, there was no realistic data that challenged the systemic barriers of employment and employment retention for those living in poverty.

The participants voiced the proverbial elephant in the room but panelist refused to dig deep into such discussions, that really addressed systemic classicism/racism and purposeful roadblocks, i.e., credit checking, temp agencies, apprenticeship programs and the like that may either eliminate a certain class due to poor credit, or utilize its staff as a reserve labor force. The panelists, in many instances, appeared very well versed with the resounding and rippling deficits that plague workforce development for many non-profits, larger government agencies and more importantly, the unemployed. To name a few, there is little oversight of programmatic outcomes; there is a lack of resources for employment supports, and there is definitely a lack of funding and sense of realism when it comes to employment preparation, retention and growth for the lower-income bracket. However, there are a zillion training and certification programs that are all funded by the ‘good’ government. The conference did however highlight the benefits in developing various strategies such as linking employment to health, peer connectivity and job coaching vs. job training. While these are all great strategies that impact ANY working-class individual, it is quite a different story for the impoverished.

The biggest dilemma still retraces its steps back to the lofty policies of the government, Federal and/or District ( ). Facilitators and panelists spoke of the order in which life is to occur as it should be all well planned. They spoke of the lack of moral fortitude that creates poverty vs the institutional barriers that sustain poverty. With a government that is more than aware of the powerful impacts of poverty, the dilapidated public education systems – especially in rural and urban areas, the ever increasing cost of post-secondary education and the limited full-time, benefits-packing employment opportunities; you would think that in the War on Poverty would actually seek to challenge the barriers that hinder its participating citizens. In addition, either performance-based contracts or just contracting out jobs alone depletes available resources for full-time, sustainable employment. In turn, what has happened is that the government continues to allow Corporate America to increase the class divide by developing policies, sanctions, reductions and loose language that provides little to no protection, longevity or security for the poor or the poor working class.

As knowledge is power, it would be wise to do THE research, understand your worth in this world, hold entities accountable for doing what they are being paid to do, and connect with those that are willing to advocate for change. Hence, as job seekers, employers, program developers/managers, and the like, please be keep the following on you radar because your input and experiences are critical to promoting change:

- Access: What is Workforce Development?
o Know the program structure
o Understand how services are delivered
o Know how data is being tracked and reported
o Know who receives the reported information
o Know the intended outcomes
- What perimeters frame your field of work?
o Understand ALL areas of a Job Description
o Make your Employee Handbook your best friend
o Understand the funding stream(s) for your position, program, etc.
o Know when and how to reach out for assistance

- Barriers: What are the new ‘push back’ policies that impact sustainable employment?
o Credit history
o Criminal history
o Drug testing
o Educational requirements
o Personal/Environmental factors

- Conquering: Who/What does the data represent?
o The impact on the intended population
o The ability to advocate
o The ability to reform/revamp
o The ability to substantiate a need for workforce programs/services

Like Rome, poverty was not built in a day. Being informed about how the policymakers include, exclude and/or disregard the plight of workforce development for the poor is crucial regardless of your capacity. Know your role, do your part and make it meaningful!

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