At Work & Public Square

Three Core Principles for Helping the Jobless

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In a 2013 blog, David Spickard, former president and CEO of Jobs for Life ( JfL) discusses how jobs can serve the neediest in our communities. He tells a story of two young women, “April” and “Mandy.”

Both women grew up in abusive homes and ran away. Both were young and didn’t have  marketable skills to find a steady job. Hopeless, abused, and dejected, April and Mandy turned to selling their bodies to survive. As Ann McAdams notes in a report on human trafficking, “Experts say 90% of [children in the U.S. sex-trafficking industry] were sexually abused as children.”

Spickard reflects on their stories saying,

Both April and Mandy say they want to stop, but when? ‘If I can find a job,’ April says… As I stared into space, I couldn’t get those six words out of my mind. A job would make her stop? That’s it? (emphasis his).

He continues, wondering about other massive social problems. Could jobs help with poverty and crime rates? Could solid jobs help with domestic violence? What about homelessness? He ends his blog stating,

Issues like these are way too complex to fix with one simple idea. It’s not just about a job. People are trapped, systems are broken, perpetrators are cruel, and darkness is real. Solutions take patience, time, relentless courage, and unwavering faith. And yet the doorway out of oppression and injustice often is marked by the assurance of dignity and hope found through God’s gift of work.

JfL is an organization that focuses on helping the jobless find, be prepared for, and keep a job. By working at the individual level with the jobless, big transformations happen not only in an individual’s life but also in the lives around them. This micro work can cause a macro change, just as Spickard ponders in his blog.

JfL encourages and equips the poor by coming alongside the jobless with a job-preparedness training curriculum. Their training is biblically-based, church-led, relationship-centered, and character-driven. Let’s look at each of these aspects of their curriculum to see how they relate to biblical principles of flourishing.

Biblically-Based Perspective Sees Jobless as God’s Image Bearers

Our purpose in life is to image God and to fulfill the cultural mandate. We do this by using our gifts and talents that he has given us to fulfill his purposes.

For the jobless, not having a job can disconnect them from their purpose and their sense of value. They find themselves unable to provide for their family and feeling unimportant to society. The biblically-based and church-led aspects of the JfL job-preparedness curriculum assist the poor in taking a step toward finding a job, but also connect the poor to the larger story and purpose of their lives in Christ. This combats not only material poverty but also spiritual and psychological poverty.

Relationship-Based Outreach Helps Meet Non-Material Needs

The curriculum is also relationship-based. Each JfL student is paired with a mentor who provides guidance and is a listening ear through the process. By forming a relationship with the student, the mentor is better equipped to tailor the program to the student’s needs and strengths, cultivating their gifts and talents. These relationships also address the social aspects of the student’s poverty.

Character-Driven Curriculum Builds Long-Term Impact

The character-driven aspect of the job-prep training provides sustainability. By focusing on a student’s character, they are more marketable for any job. They learn things like timeliness and teamwork as well as respecting leadership and approaches for overcoming obstacles.

The well-rounded approach of this curriculum is harder than just connecting someone to a job, or giving them enough money or resources to subsist. However, this approach, because it is sustainable, is a better way to love and serve the jobless community.

Why the Jobless Need Jobs, Not Just Aid

Statistics back up the important role of jobs in the fight against poverty, as we read in Income and Poverty in the United States, a 2014 report published by the U.S. Census Bureau. While these statistics use a definition of poverty that only accounts for material aspects of poverty, this data is helpful in giving us an idea of the change in poverty over time.

This report states that of the percentage of Americans who did not work at least one week in 2014, 32.7 percent were in poverty. However, of the percentage of people who worked at some point in 2014 for any given length of time, only 7 percent were below the poverty threshold. Of the percentage of people who worked full-time, year-round, only 3 percent were below the poverty threshold.

These statistics paint a picture for us—connecting the poor with a job is a proven method to decrease poverty. Yet, traditional efforts to serve the poor through charity are far more popular in the local church, such as giving away food, clothing, and shelter.

David Bass, in his book Clearing Obstacles to Work, writes,

Of America’s 460,000 churches, 62 percent give away food, but only 2 percent encourage work as a more permanent, effective, and dignified means of alleviating poverty.

When we participate in these traditional efforts, how often have we met the folks we are trying to help and developed a relationship to support them in a sustainable way?

JfL is striving to change this, turning this statistic on its head and encouraging churches to take part in fighting for flourishing by connecting the poor with jobs. Imagine what a difference it would make if 62 percent of U.S. churches had JfL programs rather than food pantries.

The Ripple Effect of Individual Employment

Let’s return to Spickard’s reflections. How can the act of helping one person find a job affect the massive problems our society faces?

People with jobs have a more sustainable income, which decreases their chances of poverty and homelessness. There are studies that link employment with decreased property crime. In the case of domestic abuse, women are more able to break away from their toxic environment if they have a job and can support themselves and their children. Fewer women like “April” and “Mandy” will get misled into the sex-trafficking industry if they have more opportunities for work.

While it may seem like a simple fix, connecting the poor to jobs can be transformative. If people across this country help others find solid jobs that give them dignity and the ability to support themselves, these micro connections will have a massive macro impact, changing the landscape of poverty.

Editor’s note: Read more examples of organizations that are using biblical and economic principles to restore dignity and alleviate poverty in Love Your Neighbor.

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