Opinion

The Great Debate

Key is holding a job, not just getting one

By Michael Rubinger
January 16, 2013

In these hard times, many people believe the solution to our nation’s economic ills can be summed up in one word – jobs. But that’s just the start. A stable economy can only exist when every family finds a place in the economic mainstream. Finding that place requires financial literacy.

Yet the basic financial skills much of the middle class learned as teenagers can be a foreign language to the working poor. Real economic inclusion takes savvy – knowing how to handle workplace challenges, stick to a budget, and build good credit. If middle-class and well-off Americans benefit from financial counsel, then why not the working poor?

Financial literacy matters. Far more than half of all Americans will slip in and out of poverty at least once in their lifetime. Struggling to make ends meet is harder when you don’t know the financial ropes. It means continuing to rely on costly, seat-of-the-pants solutions when money is tight – like payday loans and check-cashing outlets.

When you’re poor and you have bad credit, life costs more – car loan rates are higher, cell phone and utility companies demand steep deposits, prospective employers check credit scores. Opening a bank account? Forget it.

What if we could bring real, hands-on financial literacy to those who need it most? An innovative model called Financial Opportunity Centers has shown real promise, helping nearly 30,000 low-income individuals reach economic viability through a three-pronged approach:

First, training and counseling to help clients land a job and keep it. Second, one-on-one financial coaching in such basics as opening a bank account and establishing or building credit. Third, instruction in how to access public benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or housing support. This crucial assistance is something many low-income people may not know about – or may be too proud to claim.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit that invests approximately $1 billion annually in poor neighborhoods across the nation, is bringing this model to those who need it most.

Over the past four years, LISC has helped establish a network of centers that bring community leaders and exemplary financial service providers together to give these families the financial know-how they need. There are now centers in 66 neighborhoods.

These changes don’t happen overnight. But in the past two years the LISC model has not only helped nearly 8,000 people get jobs, it has also enabled nearly 6,000 to increase their net income, and more than 3,500 to improve their credit scores – key to greater and more affordable economic options. And nearly 75 percent of participants improved their monthly cash flow and net income.

Financial Opportunity Center staff members stick with their clients long after they find work. The staffers coach and counsel to help change bad financial habits – changing lives in the process.

These centers have already given a boost to thousands of people like Suzette Ruth, a Cincinnati single mother of two school-age sons who lost her job of 10 years and faced eviction.

An employment coach helped her develop the skills to find a new job and keep it. A financial coach taught her budgeting, banking and the nuts-and-bolts of building good credit. Now back at work for more than a year, Ruth no longer pays excessive fees for everyday transactions, covers her monthly expenses and has been able to keep possession of her home. She is finding her place in the economic mainstream.

There is no magic bullet for better economic circumstances. Employment, housing, job training and financial know-how together weave the strongest fabric of economic stability. Only by joining these elements can we make sure every family gets not just a job, but a firm grip on a stable economic life.

PHOTO (Top): A man looks over employment opportunities at a jobs center in San Francisco, California, in this February 4, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

PHOTO (Insert): A man walks into the New York State Department of Financial Services Foreclosure Relief Unit in Brentwood, New York February 10, 2012.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Comments
19 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

There are seven billion people on the planet and only around three billion jobs. In thirty to forty years there will be nine billion people and two billion jobs. More programs to teach more people for less jobs will not work.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@tmc : Citation needed for the numbers ( where do you get those numbers?)

I think teenagers, esp. from lower income backgrounds, should be mandated to take these programs, as that could stop the poverty cycle from repeating itself.

Posted by ReaderAtSunrise | Report as abusive
 

@ReaderAtSunrise,

Common sense and open eyes can be more reliable than citations. Does it take a citation for you to obey the “rules of the road”?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the “computer revolution” since 1970 that places in the hands of anyone who wants one an electronic “oracle” that kings/queens and rulers of old would have killed for. But computers have also made redundant many lower-level white collar jobs in management, file clerks, secretaries, travel agents, inventory clerks, bookkeepers, etc., whose duties have passed up the chain to lower management.

Current tax incentives favor part time employment by business because no overtime need be paid, no medical insurance or vacation time sick days, maternal leave, holidays or pensions accrue.

With many relatively unskillled unemployed, there is also the incentive to “reverse engineered” existing positions into part time ones that anyone with sixth grade math and reading skills can “master” on-the-job in two weeks or less. Does it take “citations” to predict that if a “job” be further defined as a “full-time” position, that every economic force in our capitalistic economy is today acting to reduce the number of such “jobs”?

Add to this the increased efficiency of each person in such “jobs” and it should be obvious that our society will need fewer and fewer people to accomplish the things that must be done. Even so, business and government will become increasingly automated as the technology to do that continues to improve. Robots don’t get sick, have sick children, get pregnant, need medical insurance, take vacations or holidays or ever retire.

I do feel that the WPA program of the thirties, a “make work” program, served a purpose by taking the unemployed and unproductive off the streets and paying them low wages. That kept many families from starving, and averted a lot of anger that would have been channeled into crime and vandalism against “civil society”.

It also took many people of the type this article contemplates and put them in a situation that required they show up regularly, take instructions, work with others to accomplish things, prioritize their spending, etc. These things are also a “benefit” when a member of America’s “underclass joins one of out military services.

In an era when a third of young Americans are too sedentary and fat to be accepted into the military, maybe it’s time for another WPA? Maybe this time it should be MANDATORY for the able-bodied receiving federal financial assistance? And who’s telling these poorly educated, unmotivated young bozos used to living off of their parents that they won’t EVER be able to move out, marry, or have kids if they don’t “get with it”?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Oh, please!

Not more wealthy screed on job training and advice on how to get a job when NONE exist anymore thanks to people like you who have outsourced any decent jobs in this country for greater profits for yourselves.

And this classic comment the “key is holding a job, not just getting one”.

WOW!

That is really profound!

Just like the profound overload of crap in this article that denigrates most of the American people.

By the way, before financial advice is needed, you first have to have finances.

My advice to you is keep your advice, and pay your fair share of taxes!

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

@ OneOfTheSheep –

Forget the WPA. It’s a waste of taxpayer money.

I have a better suggestion — this is one of those things that, if you lived in my world you may not like, but want me to agree with yours that won’t work (private joke).

Reinstitute the draft.

Here are just a few of the reasons why it makes sense:

(1) At the age of 18 (or sooner if you fail to complete high school) you must be inducted into government service. This would apply to 100% of both males and females, with no exceptions for “disabilities”.

(2) This would NOT be the same “military” focus of previous drafts, but one to train and educate people to ready them to enter the job market.

(3) NO COLLEGE DEFERMENT FOR ANYONE! You only qualify for college IF you have your government service completed. A certain amount would be paid 100% by the government — generally 100% of the typical state university system — and if you wanted to attend a private university, the rest is up to you to fund.

Certain fields, such as doctors and nurses, will only be accepted at ANY school if they agree to perform a certain number of years of work in their field wherever they are assigned. In that case, their higher education is paid for 100% by the government.

(3) You can sign up for training in whatever field of interest you have, providing you can pass the tests to show you have the necessary intelligence to do so, and there are open positions. Otherwise you must accept whatever assignment the government feels best suited for you.

(4) You will be assigned wherever the need is greatest to help the government perform its necessary social functions that presently fall through the cracks.

(5) This will SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the amount of “military” costs now being buried in private contractors who are paid egregious amounts of money to do what draftees could be doing for virtually nothing. The pay and benefits would be roughly that of a starting position in a commercial enterprise, but have all medical and dental paid for. Unless you are married, you must live in a barracks-type arrangement so that control and discipline can be maintained.

(6) YOU CANNOT BECOME A US CITIZEN UNLESS YOU SERVE YOUR TERM IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE. That means it would be difficult for anyone to survive in this country without having proof of citizenship. You could not get a job, buy or sell anything, travel anywhere, etc. without a national ID card.

(7) This would also reduce our medical care costs nationwide since ALL medical care would be provided to its citizens free of charge (from the savings generated by this program and the enormous amount of free labor available from those in training programs).

———————————–

Those are just a few of the benefits of a real training program, not the bullshit outlined above.

I’m sure you can think of a lot of your own with a huge, young and healthy workforce ready for training in any area needed by the government.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

So what happens when everything is computerized and automated and we literally only NEED 1 out of 1000 people to actually maintain resources for the population? Will that 1 always feel as though he’s supporting the other 999? Will those 999 feel as though they are on welfare?

Manual labor is an ancient method. Advancements in technology destroy the need for much of that labor. Machines don’t sue when they get hurt either. And increased output from machinery doesn’t free up labor for other ventures as Bastiat claimed. The argument that the grain harvesters replaced the field workers with harvester builders is false too as the equipment that was built once replaced the labor needed year after year. If the machinery didn’t save the farmer money, liability and time all together, it would never have been bought.

In the future, societies will have to deal with profit and welfare. Profit must reduce to sustainability instead of growth while welfare must begin to be thought of as the benefit for all that technology.

Posted by LysanderTucker | Report as abusive
 

…. of course, if governments got out of the way of peoples affairs entirely, then population and jobs would work themselves out just as naturally as it does with any other species on the planet. Oh how cruel!

Posted by LysanderTucker | Report as abusive
 

Contrary to many pontificating on here, these programs make a real difference.

I regularly volunteer with a local organization that helps people in financial difficulty. We do not spend $1 on them, but simply go over their financial lives and find ways to improve things. Most of these people have very low paying jobs, as well as cash on the side type deals (another topic, but why does our country have a black market the size of a developing nation?).

Simple things can make a huge difference. I worked with one family and within 6 months their “buy here pay here” car was paid off, meaning they didn’t need to get payday loans, meaning they no longer needed to go to soup kitchens…

Basics to people like us are not basic to many. Help them help themselves

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive
 

@ReaderAtSunrise, nope, no citations. This isn’t Wikipedia it’s a discussion and obviously I’m generalizing. People do that a lot in conversation. You should check out Mr. Hans Rosling on Ted or YouTube. He’ll help catch you up on things.
And, we don’t really have poverty cycles in the US. Not for a long time.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@PseudoTurtle, I understand what you are saying. I was not drafted, but I served two tours in the cold war. The discipline and Special High Intensity Training, and so on are invaluable. Unfortunately we don’t need and can’t afford a multi-million person force with small arms. Those days are long gone. We now live with high tech predator and reaper drones, robotic weapons systems, lasers and satellites. Twenty five year old lieutenants with a fancy joy-stick in a basement somewhere. Be all you can be!
Perhaps people should be drafted into an infrastructure support army instead?

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@ tmc –

If you read what I said more carefully, you will realize this is not about increasing the size of our armed forces, but decreasing it.

The emphasis would be on training a high-school graduate to take his/her place in society instead of just falling through the cracks as they do now.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

I posted this in another article, but before you answered me on this one. Care to change your opinion?

@ OneOfTheSheep & tmc –

Normally you both disagree with me vehemently when I express an opinion, but I would like you to respond to my idea of reinstating the draft for the good of this nation.

I think anything that is not earned is not appreciated, which is one of the main problems in this country today.

Before you reply, I should tell you I served during the Vietnam War, so I speak with some experience as to how life-changing a stint in the “King’s Service”, so to speak, can do for one’s perspectives.
Posted by PseudoTurtle |

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

You are right @PseudoTurtle, I did not read that post clearly. And I do change my opinion. That seems to be a very interesting idea. You should put that to a public blog for longer discussion.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@ tmc –

As I said, I am retired. So these issues are really your problem now.

However, if you find it interesting, you may want to pursue it as a solution that would actually cut the size and cost of the government.

There is no downside to the idea of a draft for government service to put “boots on our streets” to turn an old military phrase.

As to how we could reduce our military costs, they would be naturally reduced by elimination of ALL government contractors and replacing them with government service draftees — not with a military focus, necessarily — but there are, as you no doubt know, many jobs that are necessary for a military organization to operate effectively. Putting people in these positions gives them invaluable training when they leave after fulfilling their obligation to this nation.

You won’t get anywhere, though, because (1) this country has become far too liberal for something that stringent, and (2) too many “fat cows” would be gored by the elimination of civilian contractors.

I don’t want to end my life tilting at windmills.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

@PseudoTurtle,

I never disagree with a “person”, only an opinion (or to any conspicuous lack of logic or common sense therein). I served in the USAF for four years. I wouldn’t call the experience “life-changing”, but, given applicable circumstances, it was the best of available choices at the time for one young, without work experience, and subject to the draft. I consider my time then well invested.

What you describe is a form of “national service”. Although you don’t suggest a term of service, I think your proposal is well thought out. I’m impressed!

With regard to #3, if there were a “basic” two year term there might be little choice considering that no one would choose certain things the government needs done; and yet for another year or two there would be more vocational training “up front” that the government would then benefit from for the remainder of one’s “tour”. This would be similar to requiring longer service for those accepted for pilot training or other fields leading to well compensated “civilian pay”.

Yes, America set up training facilities nationwide in WW II and cranked out mechanics, weather observers, transportation and logistics hubs, etc. in six to eight week courses (pilots took longer, and many bombardiers and navigators were pilot trainees that “washed out”.

I agree there’s no reason whatsoever that similar priorities could not train our unskilled and inexperienced for many jobs. This would take a well-deserved ax to the roots of our present dead-end educational establishment and create a positive and ongoing “can-do” population.

One valuable asset this proposal AND the WPA have in common is that people are accepted who have no frame of reference for getting up each morning, going to work, and working and accomplishing things by teamwork and collaboration. The person with such experience has a “leg up” in the employment market and those with no “clue” no chance.

And I agree with you completely that benefits unearned are seldom appreciated. I also agree that such a proposal has about the chance of a snowball in hell given the demographics of the country and a mind set of entitlement and instant gratification. But I would actively support such action because it’s logical and credible. Count me in.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

The title of this article is that the key to prosperity for working poor people – more or less like myself, is that they have to be able to keep a job. It seems to leave out the fact that getting the job at all is the though part and even if you can get one, will it last long enough to KEEP YOU?

I was making my own job with no benefits for almost 30 years and even that died a sudden death in 2008. And I have been sitting here on food stamps because it isn’t practical or I’m not needed and can’t get current anymore.

There is no masking the fact that the glory and prosperity days are fading. All advice in the above comments seems tragically always beside the point. There are no more Australias for the unwanted underclass of the old world. We have more people in prison than any country on earth and yet their lives are as invisible as those in North Korea’s gulags.

Perhaps n there is no escaping the fact that an entire society that lives and actually needs material waste in mega quantities in order to fuel it’s economy forgot that its one corporeal flesh or any class is also a part of that material reality that can also be wasted and now actually has to waste it too.

There is still a glimmer of hope in a hobby I was pursuing all the time and have actually had some custom and a dandy discussion on theater design with a very professional and talented designer. But I will make about as much as it cost me last weekend to get an exam at the local weekend walk in clinic: two chest x-rays, nose spray and 6 pills to fight a nasal infection. It will take me twenty hours or more to do what that clinic and the pharmacy ate in about 30 minutes.

The real problem in this society seems to be that its cost of living is enormous and it is now hopelessly trapped in it.

Perhaps they should eagerly start to abandon the existing rattle trap and try to establish Solari like alternate communities that can somehow reset the economic and social rules of life and do their best and most creative thinking while keeping themselves from rotting or frustrating to death. If one wants to encourage a work ethic one must have gainful employment. Paying homage to infrastructure improvements of dubious necessity or the treacherous values of military discipline is not nearly as important as the ability to create lives that have some kind of better philosophical or spiritual value than keeping the shopping malls and real estate cost structure of this country alive. “Materialist” values for their own sake may be what are dying now.

Maybe it is time to coax the idea of the “miracle of the loaves and the fishes”. We may not have to live like Spartan skivvies either to get there. And not everyone would care to participate. But it is a neglected concept. I’d get sectarian but wiser heads in the past – the Shakers for one – knew how to lead deeply devoted lives and not get all self-righteous on everyone’s ass. They were more concerned with the compromise of individual liberties than some of the comments above, in fact most of them. They tend to be wanna be Caesars, all of them, and are eager to advise others to do things they think they are inherently dispensed from pursuing themselves. The Shakers established a thriving economic and religious culture that lasted 150 years and their sacrifices were mutually shared at the start and they provided that no volunteer interested in the life of their communities would be trapped in them if they had a change of heart.

No one is ever eager to follow the advise of hypocrites.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

While I think patchwork programs to teach folks not to do a few really foolish things are a really good thing, I don’t think that is “financial literacy.” One only has to look at the level of political debate or listen to a typical “financial advisor” to realize real financial literacy is an impossible dream for most of the population.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive
 

Real literacy at all is hard but it still has it’s benefits overall. One tends to get something from the attempt, sometimes in spite of oneself.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

@ tmc : The numbers and citations just let me know if your statement is based on actual studies, surveys, and data gathering which if so I would like to see it, or informal arm chair reasoning, which if so I would like to hear it. But it seems you have already stated it.

Posted by ReaderAtSunrise | Report as abusive
 

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