Posted by Curt on 27 August, 2016 at 3:00 pm. 1 comment.


Alexandra DeSanctis:

The daily grind of Washington politics may seem of little import to the man who spends every day standing on a street corner holding out an empty cup for spare change. But, as Democrats and Republicans wage a bitter war over this year’s presidential election, it’s worth remembering just how much is at stake. It has been nearly 80 years since the progressive movement began its attempt to alleviate systemic poverty with federal action: first, in the 1930s, via Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” and then, in the 1960s, via Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.” But judging by today’s landscape, neither vision has proven adequate to the task. Today, government at both the federal and state level spends a combined $1 trillion per year on programs meant to help low-income Americans. Over the last half-century, an estimated $16 trillion has been spent in this manner. And yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent, no better than it was in 1966.

In a recent column for National Review Online, Florida senator Marco Rubio offered a possible reason for anti-poverty programs’ lack of success: “Where liberals see the world of individual and state — that individual needs must be met by an ever-expanding, top-down government — conservatives have the opportunity to promote a vision of society that embraces community-driven, grassroots solutions.”

Most leftists would have voters believe that all conservatives despise the poor and are desperate to end entitlement programs so that they can funnel more government money to big businesses. But as many Republican leaders have proven through their efforts, the GOP’s locally oriented approach is often more successful at lifting people out of poverty than are expansive welfare programs.

One such leader, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, is a staunch advocate of community-based solutions to poverty and unemployment. Moreover, in attesting to the value of local anti-poverty efforts, Johnson can point to his considerable firsthand experience. After traveling around Wisconsin during his first five years as senator — he was elected in 2010, in the wave of tea-party enthusiasm that brought many new conservative faces to Congress — Johnson realized that despite the high levels of unemployment in metropolitan areas such as Milwaukee and Madison, manufacturers across his state still had thousands of unfilled jobs. And so, seeking to solve both problems at once, Johnson partnered with a Milwaukee-area church to institute the Joseph Project, a program that recruits and trains impoverished people, connects them to potential employers, and supports their subsequent careers.

In Milwaukee, where the recent shooting death of a black man prompted three days of riots, it is easy to see why low-income black people are dissatisfied with their situation and ready for new solutions. Wisconsin had the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country for African Americans in 2015, with black unemployment hovering around 20 percent, as well as a high quotient of violence, illegal drug usage, and failing schools. And the unemployment rate for blacks in Milwaukee was four times higher than that of white Americans in the city.

In the face of this untenable situation — one mirrored in most metropolitan areas across the country — Johnson and his staff teamed up with Pastor Jerome Smith Sr., of the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ, to provide unemployed people in Milwaukee, usually African Americans with a history of incarceration or drug and alcohol abuse, with a hopeful path out of poverty and crime.

The project was “a coming together of concepts, of the knowledge that you have all this job opportunity and yet so many people are trapped in that cycle of dependency, despair, and poverty,” Johnson told NRO.

According to Smith, the idea for the project arose after he and several other pastors visited the Sheboygan Economic Development Corporation about an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, a visit facilitated by Orlando Owens, who was serving as director of African-American outreach for the Wisconsin GOP and who later joined Johnson’s staff. It became clear during this trip that a number of corporations had unfilled manufacturing jobs, while Smith knew of countless people in the Milwaukee area who were looking for work.

On the drive back, the Joseph Project was born. Two weeks later, Smith, Johnson, and members of Johnson’s staff conducted the inaugural training session with a class of 14 individuals. Now, almost a year on, nearly 140 people have received job interviews; more than 80 of them have received job offers, and about 60 have maintained employment since.

Graduates of the Joseph Project (YouTube)

For each session, Smith identifies about 60 people through his church who are looking for work; he then interviews them to select ten or twelve who are most committed to contributing the effort needed to succeed. Each week-long session takes place in the Greater Praise church building and teaches participants soft skills such as time management and spiritual fitness, as well as how to interview. So far, the Joseph Project has held twelve sessions, and as the program has developed, successful graduates have returned to speak to each new class about the importance of hard work.

Johnson himself has attended nearly every session to give an orientation pep talk. “Having been an employer myself, I tell them the most important attribute to exhibit in an interview is a good attitude,” Johnson said, “and the fact that you want to help the organization succeed.”

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