Joe Carbone came to Akron on Thursday, offering hope for the chronically unemployed through what seemed to be a contradiction: To beat long-term joblessness, you must first find employment.
His statement took time to explain to a group of about 50 government leaders at the Job Center in the morning and again later when he talked about joblessness while eating lunch with members of the Greater Akron Chamber at Firestone Country Club.
But his remarks resonated clearly with a group of 13 people who told their job-hunting stories in a tear-filled roundtable at the University of Akron in the afternoon.
Most of their heads were nodding as he said “the length of your unemployment is the greatest single barrier to your employment.”
To beat the quandary, he suggests taking a part-time job, even one well below their training, just to demonstrate their willingness to work. He also praised job seekers who volunteer their time as a way to show initiative.
One of the disappointing statements job hunters hear constantly is that only people who are employed are welcome to apply for most vacancies. They take the implication to mean there must be something wrong with an unemployed person — laziness, character flaws, lack of job performance. It’s anyone’s guess, because the reasons are never expressed.
It takes it’s toll.
“I’m petrified that I am going to lose my house,” said one woman, who has been unemployed for months. “I’m petrified that I will be on the street with a box in my hands.”
Another man, who said he has been jobless or underemployed for years, said he once made a suicide threat and that, even now, “I spend a good part of my day deciding if I should get up tomorrow.”
The hope Carbone offers comes in the form of a private, nonprofit program he runs in Bridgeport, Conn., called Platform to Employment. It was featured in a 60 Minutes segment recently, and Carbone is suggesting similar programs start throughout the country.
He told political leaders Thursday morning that he chose a private corporation to avoid the constraints of government operations.
He told the Akron roundtable he’s trying to start similar programs in 10 communities nationwide, and “I’m convinced this community is going to do something like this.”
Here’s how he proposes to help the “99ers” — people who have been jobless for 99 weeks and no longer receive unemployment benefits:
•?Form a private company with tax-exempt status that draws its funding from private donors. The operation in Bridgeport sold shares at $6,000.
•?Ask the chronically unemployed to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that is used to form a diverse group of people to go through the program. In Bridgeport, 100 participants initially were chosen, although seven dropped out along the way for personal reasons.
•?Put participants through a lengthy training and counseling procedure. Topics include career evaluation; skills testing; clinical services, including addressing the depression often seen in the 99erS; employment planning and coaching; career readiness; and motivation workshops and volunteerism to rebuild a sense of self-worth.
Participants are warned their next job will not be at their former wage. It might even be multiple part-time positions.
Then they are placed in jobs, with their first four weeks of salary paid by Platform to Employment. The next four weeks are shared between the agency and the company. If things work out, the employee is on his own in a new job.
Carbone tries to weed out companies that might be looking for eight weeks of subsidized pay before letting the employee go.
Of the 93 participants who completed the program in Bridgeport, 66 became employed. He estimates that maybe 50 percent of the long-term unemployed could eventually find jobs, but he concedes that might be optimistic.
And he said the need to help the 99ers is longterm.
“We are in for the long haul,” he said. “This economy will not be robust for a long time.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.