Three Steps We Can Take to Ensure Speedy Job Growth in Today's Economy

At this moment in our nation’s history, it is important that we close America's gaps in opportunity by ensuring speedy job growth and marshalling the resources of all groups and communities in our efforts to rebuild the national economy. 

Three steps we can take to expand opportunity for all people in the United States include:  (1) investing in community health centers in neighborhoods with few health providers; (2) supporting formally incarcerated people in their efforts to obtain employment; and (3) assisting skilled immigrants in obtaining jobs commensurate with their qualifications. 

I.  Invest in Community Health Centers in Neighborhoods with Few Health Providers

Health is central to both opportunity and economic security.  In our efforts to rebuild America’s economy, we need to do everything possible to support the health of all people here. 

But, in this time of economic uncertainty, America’s unmet health needs are growing.  45.7 million Americans are uninsured, and approximately 60 million people—many of whom have health insurance—have no accessible primary health care home because of a local shortage of doctors.  

Community health centers are categorically open to everyone—irrespective of income, insurance, ethnicity, or gender,  and provide comprehensive primary and preventive health services including physician, dental, nurse, laboratory, X-ray, pharmacy, obstetrics, child and adult medicine, specialty and in-patient referral, and follow-up on a sliding fee scale based on income.   For patients covered by private or public insurance plans, community health centers will bill the insurance providers.   However, federal, state, and local governments generally will support the health centers by providing subsidies to cover the cost of services provided to the uninsured.  

We can push our elected officials to provide increased funding for community health centers in those neighborhoods with few health providers, which would create construction jobs, health care jobs, and improve overall health. 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act initially provided $2 billion to be invested in community health centers.   However, because investment in community health centers provides exponential economic growth, often in the nation’s most economically challenged neighborhoods, increasing funding to these programs would substantially expand the opportunity for health and economic security for all people in the United States.

II.  Support Formally Incarcerated People in Their Efforts to Contribute to Our Economy

People grow and change over time, and everyone deserves a chance to start over after their missteps or misfortunes.  But, according to a report by the Legal Action Center even though employment is known to substantially reduce recidivism and increase public safety, many formally incarcerated people in America never get the chance to utilize the skills have gained before, and during, their incarceration to contribute to the American economy. 

In the year 2008, approximately 700,000 people reentered communities from prisons around the nation.   Most faced daunting legal restrictions, licensing requirements, occupational bars, inadvertent and deliberate discrimination practices, and cultural stigmas, all of which drastically hindered their abilities to obtain employment and rebuild their lives.  

For example, numerous federal and state laws disqualify people from jobs and licenses based on their criminal record.   Very often, decisions to deny employment to applicants with criminal records are made without consideration of the relationship between the criminal record and the duties of the job, how old or the seriousness of the convictions, and without consideration of a person’s post-conviction rehabilitation.  

Moreover, in probable violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many private employers have flat bans against hiring people with criminal records, without a business necessity to justify their blanket exclusion.  

We can expand opportunities for formally imprisoned people, ensure rapid and robust job growth, and strengthen public safety by: 

• pressuring our state or federal legislators to reaffirm that flat employment bans against formally incarcerated people are discriminatory, unfair, and unlawful;

• pressuring our local, state, or federal government to fund the creation and maintenance of transitional job programs, which combine immediate placement in time-limited wage-paying subsidized employment with case management, support services, counseling, mentoring and referrals, and ultimately help transition participants into unsubsidized jobs while maintaining job retention assistance;  and

•pressuring Congress to increase the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)—which employers receive if they hire low-income people with criminal records—to the tax credit available for individuals who qualify as Long-Term Family Assistance recipients.  

III.  Assist Skilled Immigrants in Obtaining Jobs Commensurate with Their Qualifications

America has long stood for the promise of opportunity.  In order to fulfill that promise, and to grow and meet the challenges we face in rebuilding the economy, we should pressure our local, state, and government actors to take steps that will enable everyone to contribute their full skill set to the economy. 

According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2006, there were more than 6.1 million immigrants in the United States, 25 years or older, with a bachelor’s degree or higher.   But, due to significant obstacles in obtaining employment commensurate with their qualifications, as of October 2008, more than 1.3 million of these college-educated immigrants were unemployed or working in unskilled jobs such as dishwashers, security guards, and taxi drivers.   Their work in these jobs constitutes a waste of human capital that could otherwise substantially aid America on its road to economic recovery. 

A major barrier to utilizing the skills that immigrants bring to the United States is the nonrecognition, or discounting, of foreign academic and professional credentials.   At the national level, this barrier can be ameliorated by developing policies that:  (1) make an assessment of overseas credentials a standard pre-migration requirement so that, once skilled immigrants enter the U.S., they will not have to spend months or years individually proving that their coursework or skills should be accepted; (2) create fair and accessible national standardization of state, local, and professional credential evaluation assessment processes;  or (3) promote international accreditation that would stream-line the transferability of credentials across countries.  

A concrete and immediate step that we can take is to pressure our elected officials to integrate skilled immigrants into the U.S. labor force by supporting “bridge training,” which would help foreign-educated workers fill in the often-minor gaps to their education, skills, or language training that are required by their states, localities, or professional associations.  This public investment would limit the waste of human capital and have the potential to quickly raise the productivity, earnings, and tax contributions of immigrants.

For more information on the status of equality in America today, see The Opportunity Agenda’s updated equality indicators at: http://opportunityagenda.org/stateofopportunity/measuringequality
 

Tags: Opportunity, jobs, Economy, unemployment, arra (all tags)

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