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Department of Labor launches initiative on transitional jobs

July 14, 2010

In an election year when the U3 unemployment rate floats close to 10%, job creation is at the forefront of the national political debate. While most high profile measures – chiefly the stimulus bill – have sought to prevent further job loss, some policy advocates seek to highlight the long-term barriers to employment that have kept millions of Americans without stable jobs since before the recession.

Thus transitional jobs are increasingly in the news and on the lips of public officials. Describing job programs designed to address those employment barriers – lack of educational credentials, skill sets or transportation; criminal records and homelessness – transitional jobs are those that allow people to enter into a workforce that has long eluded them.

Last month, President Obama delivered a Father’s Day address promoting responsible fatherhood. He announced two new cabinet-level initiatives by the administration to re-engage absent fathers with their families: building on the success of similar programs at the district and local level, the Justice Department is launching a “Fathering Re-Entry Court” for fathers leaving prison. The courts aim to direct recent parolees toward services and jobs that would allow them to better support their families.

Because successful societal re-entry depends so heavily on having a stable income, transitional job creation is at the heart of such initiatives. The Department of Labor has devoted $45 million of its 2010 budget to a transitional jobs program coordinated with the Department of Health and Human Services, and soon after the Father’s Day address, the DOL organized a conference on the topic. Broadcasted on the web, the conference opened with remarks from Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Martha Coven of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, and Mark Greenberg of HHS. A panel discussion followed featuring Ron Mincy of Columbia University’s School of Social Work, Joe Jones of the Center for Urban Families and Mindy Tarlow of the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Since the 1980s, unemployment has most acutely affected young men of lower incomes and lesser educational attainment, noted Mincy, describing the current economic climate as a “men-cession.” Mincy pointed out the convergence of unemployment with absentee fatherhood for the same workforce demographics, which in turn has a broader effect on families and children when lack of income leads to defaults on child support payments.

The conference then highlighted some of the success stories: two ex-offenders spoke of their transitions from prison to steady employment through the Center for Urban Families’ STRIVE program, which combines skills training including ABE and GED classes with counseling on maintaining successful family relationships. Mindy Tarlow cited the Center for Employment Opportunities’ success in placing clients in non-publicly subsidized, private sector jobs within a week and touted CEO’s job retention services and Responsible Fatherhood program.

Through their testimonies and presentation of data, speakers at the transitional jobs conference stressed the close intersection between stable employment and stable family structures. And as evinced by the inter-departmental cooperation between Justice, Labor and HHS, future workforce development initiatives aimed at those in transitional situations will sit at the crossroads of several policy circles, bringing together federal, state and local governments along with private business, community and faith-based groups who share an interest in breaking cycles of both unemployment and familial insecurity.

Michael Paarlberg

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