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Jobs for underemployed benefit all, study finds

on October 21, 2009

Many people expect, it seems, that the current harsh job market will treat them more gently as the recession subsides. But for three growing groups of East Bay residents, the market has never been kind–which is one reason the East Bay Community Foundation just completed the first local labor study specifically addressing these groups.

The Foundation, a clearinghouse for financial donations to nonprofits and other community improvement ventures, released Tuesday the result of a nine-month research project that outlines the employment hurdles facing many immigrants with limited English proficiency, individuals previously imprisoned, and former foster care recipients in Oakland and Richmond.

“We must advance career opportunities for those who face multiple barriers to economic security,” the foundation president and CEO Nicole Taylor says in the report. “Working together, we can ensure meaningful employment for all members of our community.”

The project surveyed members of these three groups and brought together 29 representatives from job training and social service organizations, private employers, educational institutions, labor unions and policymakers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The report found that people from these groups are likeliest to find work in construction and green technology, logistics and international trade, custom manufacturing and health care industries.  It recommends ways labor-related organizations, institutions and companies can partner to remove some of the logistical and educational barriers.

The drives for the study include the foundation’s recent change in strategy, putting economic development at the top of its list, and noticeable growth of these three groups in the East Bay over the past three years, Taylor said.

According to the report, titled “Putting the East Bay to Work: Sustainable Jobs for the Underemployed,” Oakland is home to half the county’s parolees and 89 percent of its adult English Second Language students. 1750 “aged-out” former foster care youth between ages 18 and 24 live in the East Bay and another 350 will exit the foster care system soon, according to the report.  The Bay is experiencing a “second wave” of immigration, and over the next two years, 46,000 convicts are expected to be released from California prisons, Taylor said. Historically, 60 percent of released inmates come to the Bay area, she said.

Employing individuals from these three “chronically underemployed” categories benefits all community residents, Taylor said, by decreasing the number of people on public assistance and preventing ex-convicts from committing crimes to stay afloat.

“Whether they have been trapped or imprisoned by real bars, figurative bars or psychological bars,” said Deborah Alavarez-Rodriguez, East Bay Community Foundation’s Chair of the Board of Directors, “the separation between us and them is an illusion.”

Adrienne Jackson, 21 and mother of a 4-year old boy, graduated from First Place’s 2-year transitional housing program, which requires that participants be employed or  be actively pursuing employment. After jobs at Jack-in-Box and the YMCA, she now works as a peer educator at First Place.

“If I wasn’t given a chance at my first job, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Jackson said. “Having a job now is wonderful; it’s a way that I’m stable and that I can take care of me and my family. If I didn’t have a job, I would probably be homeless.”

Adrienne pays for her son to attend preschool. Without her job, she said, he wouldn’t be starting his education.

Hiring individuals from these three demographics, said Mike Hannigan, the owner of the California office supply company Give Something Back, is not just good for the community, it’s good for business. Hannigan, who spoke at the press conference about the report, said he has received over $600,000 in tax credits from hiring people in certain zip codes, as well as reimbursements for 80 percent of wages he pays to employees hired through CalWORKs, a California state welfare program that includes job placement assistance. Offering training increases employee retention, he said, and when the economy rebounds, he pointed out, he will have qualified employees ready to go.

“It’s a challenge that’s well worth it,” Hannigan said. “It can be like finding diamonds in the rough.”

In response to its findings, the East Bay Community Foundation is developing a Workforce Development Fund and has selected seven employment-related proposals that the fund will support. Five of the seven programs, which include vocational training, case management and job counseling, will be based in Oakland.

Image: First Place For Youth, a contributor to the study released on Tuesday, participant Chynna Fuller and FPFY Education & Employment Specialist Jennifer Salerno work on Chynna’s resume. Photo credit – Sam Deaner


  1. Ken on October 22, 2009 at 1:17 am

    I would love to be able to hire motivated hard working folks from the older Oakland community, as well as the newer incoming community. Still working through a ton of red tape…

  2. […] From Oakland, an article about the results of the East Bay Community Foundation’s study: “Putting the East Bay to Work: Sustainable Jobs for the Underemployed,” Jobs for underemployed benefit all, study finds […]

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