Get. A. Job.
These three words are a common reaction-spoken or unspoken-to seeing people on the streets or elsewhere, who are out of work. We would all prefer that people who are homeless stop living on the streets and start earning a paycheck and paying rent. We would all rather see people who are coming out of the prison system transition successfully to jobs rather than end up incarcerated again.
But have you ever asked yourself if you would hire these men and women?
As I know from my work over the past 30 years, tens of thousands of people here in the Bay Area-and millions nationally-want to work but are regularly excluded from the workforce.
Recently, local news outlets banded together to shine a spotlight on homelessness-and while this was the start of increasing empathy for people in need, many lamented the lack of solutions. But in fact there are proven solutions. Of course housing is critical. But so is helping people who face homelessness and other barriers go to work…so they can pay the rent. And we know how to do that. For example, social enterprises are businesses that hire and assist people to overcome barriers, work, and contribute. For every dollar a social enterprise spends, society and taxpayers receive a return of 123%.
Yet I believe real change will happen at the scale needed only when we double down on both providing solutions for people to turn to, and in turn, changing our own hearts and minds to think differently about people struggling on the fringes of our economy. Instead of viewing them as a burden needing help, we can see people who have lived through tough times as having much to contribute, and plenty of motivation because of lessons they’ve learned the hard way. They can be among the most dedicated, hardworking employees when given a chance.
For most of us, Labor Day is about picnics and sales. But for too many people it is a reminder of their exclusion from the workforce. This Labor Day, let’s help make work a reality for all who are willing and able to contribute by hiring and supporting people to gain the dignity that comes with earning a paycheck.
With a Perspective, I’m Carla Javits.
Carla Javits is President and CEO of REDF, which invests in social enterprises- businesses that hire people who otherwise would be shut out of the workforce.
This piece originally appeared on KQED Perspectives.