Cheryl Spaulding has been helping the unemployed since 1995. Her idea? Give the longterm unemployed a government voucher for a portion of his salary and let the employer who hires him cash it in. That, she said, would help the longterm unemployed overcome a prejudice that some companies have against those who have been out of work.
In 1995, Spaulding co-founded Joseph's People, a support group for the unemployed at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown. Since then it has expanded to 11 suburban churches.
Because of her long experience in dealing with the unemployed, I chose Cheryl as one of my panel of experts for Sunday's Inquirer story looking at the job situation in our economy. We had to cut everyone's responses for length, so I'm running them in their entirety this week in Jobbing. You can read my Saturday Inquirer story on the most recent jobs numbers from the Department of Labor by clicking here.
Is this the new normal?
When Joseph's People began, in May 1995, I honestly thought we would be helping unemployed people for one year and then we would disband the organization when things went "back to normal and everybody got jobs." That "normal" never appeared. Between 1995 and 2005, our organization grew or shrank depending upon how well companies were doing and who was lying off. In 2001, we had so few members that we actually considered disbanding. About 2004-05, we began to see much larger numbers of people coming to us from more disparate parts of the economy. Now, in 2011, we are the largest we have ever been. Why? Because there is a new normal and there are two sides to it.
On the company side, it has a single goal, profit at any cost. Such a goal can only be served by the willingness of companies to abandon countries, communities and people. In our area, this happened in the Pharma industry. Where we were once the "go to" place for Pharma; the companies have moved overseas or merged or were bought, they abandoned local communities, and they laid off highly educated professionals; imported cheap labor or outsourced jobs to poorer nations.
On the employee side, it also has a single goal, my career before everything else. Companies have sent a startling and chilling message to our younger workers: expect nothing from us. We have no intention of training you; we will pay you the least we can; we will offer you as few benefits as possible and we expect you to go away before you could retire. Younger workers got the message and are now playing by company rules – following the money and opportunity with little or no allegiance to the organization they work for. American workers are moving to other countries, including China, to follow opportunities. Why are we surprised by this?
If we change nothing, the future of work in this country for workers over age 45 will continue to be devastating. Jobs will be difficult to find and harder to keep. Benefits will be a thing of the past. We will impoverish our adult middle class. For younger workers, it means stiff competition with people in faraway lands. For our children, it means competing with people all over the world with little or no education and a nearly complete inability to communicate in foreign languages.
What would encourage hiring?
We should begin with what we can most easily control and that is local – the State of Pennsylvania.
Small business hiring: Pennsylvania needs to put into place programs that provide substantive and immediate reasons for small businesses to hire. Small business is not going to sign up for programs, they hate all things government. We should provide vouchers and programs directly to the unemployed that give them bargaining chips to present to small businesses. It's simple and easy to control: direct payments of cold hard cash to small business for hiring an unemployed person. Small business is our best and greatest hope of getting people hired quickly.
Contracts to work for the State: Pennsylvania's state government spends huge amounts of money. We could require that all contracts with the state involving any kind of security risk hire only permanent residents or US citizens. Security risk is a broad term and could include all IT work (a field deeply hit by outsourcing), police, fire, environmental, utilities, etc. This would eliminate the vast majority of outsourcing work for the State and end companies bringing in short term workers at sublevel wages from poor countries. We could also do this in our municipalities, port authorities, etc. We need to end outsourcing and we can start local. We need to fight back.
Education: Our kids are not being prepared to compete with workers coming up in other nations. We need a plan, not for ten years down the road, but for two years hence. Our present system has had years to change and nothing has, so
we need a voucher system for all kids in the state. Kids should be going to any school they want to not based on income, but based upon desire to learn. We should provide money directly to schools that put into place twelve-month school with specialties in math, science and foreign languages. We also need to fund education for adults in math, science and foreign languages as well.
If our workers are well educated; if we end outsourcing in Pennsylvania and we get small business moving, we can make Pennsylvania a "go to" state. Should this be done at the federal level? Absolutely, but I won't hold my breath.
Thursday: Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
Friday: Mark Price, labor economist with Keystone Research.
Saturday: Tara Weiner, managing partner of Deloitte in Philadelphia
Here are the others: