Georgia jobless rate lowest in decades, but workers quitting clouds good news | GEORGIA RECORDER

Georgia jobless rate lowest in decades, but workers quitting clouds good news | GEORGIA RECORDER

In The News

Georgia jobless rate lowest in decades, but workers quitting clouds good news | GEORGIA RECORDER

Fewer Georgians filed initial unemployment insurance claims last month than in the weeks leading up to the pandemic last year, and the state’s unemployment rate hit 3.2%, a 20-year low.

Those are two welcome signs of economic recovery after record-breaking layoffs sent workers home across the state, but celebrations of those numbers should be tempered by the large number of Georgians quitting their jobs and not seeking new employment…

That difference equals more than 88,000 people no longer on the job since the start of the pandemic, said Georgia Center for Opportunity director of research Erik Randolph.

“But even this does not describe the full extent of the problem,” Randolph said. “Georgia’s economy was humming before the pandemic, and accounting for Georgia’s employment growth prior to the recession, around 240,000 workers have disappeared from the labor force. This shows that we still have much work to do to reinvigorate our economy and help people find employment that allows them to support themselves and their families and better their communities.”

 

“We do have some decent data on why people were not going to work in between August and September. We saw a small uptick in the number of people who said that they don’t want to be employed, but much larger increases in the number of people who said that they weren’t working because they themselves were sick, or they were caring for someone with COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. “The number of people who were not working because they were worried about getting sick also doubled, and these are statistics specifically for Georgia.”

Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

In Georgia there has been a reduction in the rate of ex-offenders returning to prison. In the most recent report from the Georgia Department of Corrections, 25.3 percent of those released from all facilities (private, state, inmate boot camps, county, transition centers) in state FY 2018 were reconvicted for a felony after three years. That number dropped from 27.7 percent previously.  In the last few years, the growing number of ex-offenders returning to a life in prison has become a more widely recognized issue among policymakers and organizations. We believe the percentage is slowly dropping due to the Second Chance program, and organizations like GCO working to help ex-offenders find stable employment, and the elimination of policy barriers that keep this population from working. 

Even so, recidivism rates are still too high. Each number—each piece of data—is a person seeking direction and purpose to succeed and be self-sustaining. Not to mention, in a time when federal spending is high and inflation is growing, recidivism is a very costly issue for taxpayers. 

It’s a common misconception government assistance programs fill the gap for this population as they reenter society. The key to mitigating the usage of assistance programs and aid in breaking the cycle of poverty and crime for many is stable employment. This might sound elementary at first, but as we move deeper into this idea you’ll see it is common sense.  

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

 

  1. Jobs provide financial support

We all have bills to pay. A job provides a paycheck. However, let’s not get lost in the dollar signs. A job is more than a paycheck, too. A job is long-term financial security. Having a job allows people to plan for the future and set new life goals, essentially helping to define a person’s purpose. In a 2000 study by Christopher Uggen titled “Work as a Turning Point in the Life Course of Criminals: A Duration Model of Age, Employment, and Recidivism,” he found those over the age of 27 with a job were less likely to return to criminal activity. 

  1. Jobs provide purpose

Plain and simple, we all have the inherent need to be needed. Work allows each one of us to use our talents and gifts for positive impact. Fulfilling work allows us to play a part in a community, whether that is a community of coworkers or the actual community we live in. Every job, no matter how big or how small, has intrinsic value. A job helps us to develop daily structure, meet goals, and take our place within society. It’s not easy to go from being told when to eat and sleep to freedom. Jobs help create boundaries and play a part to keep our daily activities moving forward in a positive direction. 

In 2005, a study called  “Ex-Offender Employment Programs and Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis” found “having a legitimate job lessens the chances of reoffending following release from prison and that recidivism is less likely among those with higher wages and higher quality jobs.”

When people have a sense of purpose, they become more committed, responsible, creative thinkers. They become healthier and more passionate about serving in a way that helps others. 

 

  1. Jobs provide dignity

People generally obtain a large portion of their self-worth from their work. At the end of the day, no matter who we are we want to be treated with respect and equality. These are usually derived from our place of employment.

Without a job people are economically vulnerable to the cost of living and the economy’s fluctuation. Having a job and a sense of self-worth also helps reduce mental health issues among those who have spent time incarcerated. 

Those who end up in U.S. prisons are perhaps among the lowest skilled adults in society, and have a number of personal problems (health and behavioral) that render many of them difficult to employ.” 

Relationships with coworkers often provide the social structure and friendships needed for people to ease back into society and reduce the feeling of isolation.Through employment former inmates are able to receive the mental health and medical health support needed to integrate back into society in a dignified way. 

 

Wrapping up

GCO has dedicated much of its time and manpower to working with policymakers to reduce the barriers formerly incarcerated people face when looking for employment. To learn more about what we’re doing click here

 

 

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

correctional officer

Nicole had high hopes when she moved her family from a rural area in south Georgia to Henry County in the Atlanta metro. The cost of living went up, but the job opportunities were more plentiful and paid much better: She went from making $25,000 a year to over $35,000 as a corrections officer.

But that’s when Nicole got an unpleasant surprise. Her new salary level meant that her safety-net benefits from the government went entirely away—not reduced, but entirely eliminated. She ended up getting around a $10,000 raise but losing approximately $12,500 in benefits.

“I ended up getting kicked off social services because I made a couple dollars more than the max I could,” Nicole shared.

Nicole is 32 years-old and the single mother of four boys. “I’m the only income. I don’t get child support payments or anything else,” she said.

Losing her benefits—particularly food stamps—was a severe blow, especially during the pandemic. Although she has gotten help from local church-based food banks to help her make ends meet, her situation is still stressful.

To further bridge the gap, Nicole is working as much overtime as possible. But she would need to earn significantly more—to the tune of $25 an hour—in order to fully make up for the benefits she has lost. Even in an economy where wages are quickly rising for many workers, that raise level is a tough haul.

 

What needs to change?

Nicole encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to lose their benefits, but not enough to make up for those lost benefits. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.

While it is wonderful to see how the community has stepped up to help Nicole fill the gaps left from her losing access to food stamps, not everyone is so fortunate.

So, what’s the best pathway forward? Our goals should be to shore up the safety net for those who truly need it, eliminate these benefit cliffs, and create a system that encourages (rather than discourages) people from climbing the economic ladder. Along these lines, here are three possible ways forward:

 

  • The food stamp program could be fully redesigned to eliminate the benefit cliffs.

 

  • Separate pools of funds (from public, private, and charitable resources) could be set up as temporary stop-gap measures to get people like Nicole beyond the cliff.

 

  • Nicole could work with someone who understands the cliffs to help her strategize a career and pay progression to effectively jump over the cliff.

 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

#DareToClimb media campaign

This is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) recently launched the #DareToClimb media campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and share stories of those trapped in government assistance programs that, while well-intentioned, are structured in a way that often does more harm than good. GCO believes it is important to share the stories of these courageous men and women who have overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve self-sufficiency.

To learn more, follow the #DareToClimb hashtag.

** The $35,000 income limit is based on Nicole’s interview with us. Although our calculations show it will be somewhat higher, the impact and stress she is experiencing will be the same.