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What feds could do to expand job training and reduce poverty

Michelle Snow, left, and Reggie Gilbert work on a mockup house at Northern California Construction Training in 2015. Its job trainees are recruited by local trade unions.
Michelle Snow, left, and Reggie Gilbert work on a mockup house at Northern California Construction Training in 2015. Its job trainees are recruited by local trade unions. Sacramento Bee file

Vanessa Robles worked 10 hours a day at a commercial laundry company and took classes at a community college. After being laid off, she found it difficult to find another job with her limited skills and experience, and she had to drop out of college.

Her story is not unique. A new JobTrain report demonstrates how the federal government potentially makes hundreds of thousands of people ineligible for training and other services that would lead to self-sufficiency because its poverty level doesn’t take the full cost of living into account.

Unfortunately, the federal poverty level and the unemployment rate are often the only measures that programs use to determine if people should receive support for training or other employment services. These measures are also used to determine how much federal aid local governments and organizations are given.

The funding available for high-cost communities is often so low that offering services to help people get jobs is next to impossible. It affects not only the unemployed, but also those working two or three minimum-wage jobs who are above the federal poverty line but still can’t make ends meet.

Both those under the poverty line and those who don’t make enough for basic living expenses often can’t consider going to college right away. Instead, they require an in-between step, a pathway that will move them up the career ladder quickly so that they can earn more and also introduce them to college.

Our research shows that this step of skills training is the gift that keeps on giving. When people begin a career as medical assistants or construction workers, they can continue to move up the ladder and earn increased wages that help them become self-sufficient.

Hundreds of thousands of people could benefit from this type of career pathway. It also would be an economic boost to communities as more people find stable employment.

A change in how we measure poverty to more accurately reflect people’s circumstances and in how we provide support is long past due. The cost of doing nothing can be seen in news stories across the country, showing the despair of those left behind for far too long.

As for Robles? She was able to register for a JobTrain medical assistant program, where she received training and services including transportation and child care. She now works for Stanford Health Care and has started her career.

Isn’t it time to fix the broken pathway for others?

Nora Sobolov is president & CEO of JobTrain, a workforce nonprofit based in the Bay Area. She can be contacted at info@jobtrainworks.org.

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