More than one in 10 Philadelphians are without work, and with those kind of statistics, it is logical to think about getting those people jobs - as quickly as possible.
But it doesn't do much good to get people jobs if, six months later, they are out of work again due to what is largely a hidden barrier to job stability: poor physical and mental health.
Diane Cornman-Levy, executive director of the Federation of Neighborhood Centers in Philadelphia, will preside over a panel Wednesday to introduce an approach to dealing with the problem.
The approach marries job training with extensive health coaching and long-term follow-up, even after employment.
"There are so many health issues that are not addressed, or even identified among these people," said Cornman-Levy, talking about Philadelphia's low-skilled adults.
The new program, the Career Support Network, has its roots in a green-job training program run in 2010 by two federation neighborhood centers, Diversified Community Services in Point Breeze and United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital was shopping for a community group to partner with for new approaches for prediabetes screening and long-term diabetes condition management.
Hospital researchers contacted Cornman-Levy. Her federation is an alliance of neighborhood centers set up to help families. Some of those are rooted in the settlement houses organized in the 1880s to assist immigrants.
Research in workforce development pointed to the link between job loss and chronic health problems, from diabetes to depression. "Health is one of the main reasons people lose jobs," she said.
Knowing that, Cornman-Levy jumped at the chance to link the training groups with Jefferson's health education, screening, and treatment.
Jefferson and the centers set up a small screening protocol for people enrolled in the green-jobs program.
They found that nearly 50 percent of the students, mostly African American males, were prediabetic.
"It was alarming," Cornman-Levy said, "but I thought, 'Wow, we're really onto something.' "
That test led the federation and Jefferson to receive a $425,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to set up screening, peer counseling, education, and a host of services aimed at helping these unemployed workers get and keep a job.
The program includes a heavy research component, she said, to measure what works and to determine whether the approach could be replicated on a larger scale.
The program would track the workers for two years. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation requires Jefferson and the federation to raise matching funds over three years.
So far, contributions have come from the Thomas Scattergood Foundation, the Independence Foundation, the Boeing Foundation, and the Job Opportunity Investment Network, a local network of philanthropic groups focused on workforce development.