How to ease the labor shortage by fixing the social safety net

How to ease the labor shortage by fixing the social safety net

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How to ease the labor shortage by fixing the social safety net

The United States is in the enviable position of having a labor force crunch: Too few workers chasing too many jobs. There is no shortage of speculation among economists about solutions to this labor shortfall. But one factor that could help, and is too often ignored, is the ways our nation’s current safety-net system prevents people from entering the labor market.


First, let’s consider the context we’re in. The U.S. unemployment rate has settled below 4 percent for over two years, the longest stretch since the 1960s. Even so, our labor force participation rate continues to lag, caused in part by an aging population, declining birth rates, and aftereffects of the pandemic.


In January 2000, the labor force participation rate was 67.3 percent. Today, it’s 62.8 percent. That might not sound like much on paper, but consider that it means 1.7 million Americans are still missing from the labor force compared to right before the pandemic alone. These are able-bodied, prime-age workers—defined as ages 25 to 54—and they are still on the economic sidelines.


What’s worse, the labor force participation rate is expected to decline even further to around 60.4 percent by 2032, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor. On the flip side, consider that by 2023, 41 million Americans relied on food stamps to make ends meet and nearly 90 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid.


These are the numbers and statistics, but they represent real human beings who are being left behind. One way to bring more individuals back into the labor market is by implementing badly needed reforms to our nation’s social safety net.


Wishing you an abundant Thanksgiving

Wishing you an abundant Thanksgiving

Wishing you an abundant Thanksgiving

Second Chances

Like every year, we have so much to be thankful for this season. But one thing stands out to me when thinking about the stories of the men and women we serve everyday here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity — and that’s being thankful for a second chance.

I think of stories like that of Eddie. Eddie went from spending holidays alone, homeless and living in a car, to self-sufficiency with a roof over his head and a stable job. He now has something else, too — hope for the future.

Or my thoughts are turned to the men organizations like North Georgia Works help — homeless or formerly incarcerated men who badly need a second shot at work plus the relationships in their lives.

It’s people like Eddie, and organizations like North Georgia Works, that give me and our team at GCO the passion to continue growing our work and community footprint. It’s the partnerships we build that make us stronger and allow us to positively impact the lives of our neighbors.


Eddie’s story is one of hoping and reaching for more. With the support of networks like the United Way’s Home For Good and the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Better Work, Eddie was able to change his situation. Now he finds himself with a home and in a career that he is proud of.

Eddie’s story is one of hoping and reaching for more. With the support of networks like the United Way’s Home For Good and the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Better Work, Eddie was able to change his situation. Now he finds himself with a home and in a career that he is proud of.

In my role here at GCO, I am reminded that that grace often displays itself in the acts of kindness and generosity others, like you, have extended to us. Without your support we would not be able to accomplish our goals — and we have some big goals for 2023!

This Thanksgiving as we gather with family and friends to reflect on our blessings, we’re thankful for you. Because of you and your support for our efforts, we’re ensuring that people like Eddie have a real chance to achieve a better life. Thank you for the crucial role you play in helping all people thrive!


Fixing things at the local level without government

Fixing things at the local level without government

In The News

Fixing things at the local level without government

Inflation, recession , and stagflation are on the minds of most people.


A recent Wall Street Journal-NORC poll showed that most people think the economy is in trouble. More than 4 in 5 people, 83% of respondents, said the nation’s economy is “poor or not so good.” What’s more, a New York Times poll released this week found that more than 75% of registered voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.


At the same time, distrust of institutions is reaching an all-time high. Polling from State Policy Network and Morning Consult shows that trust in the federal government is down to 15%, with state governments faring only slightly better at 22%. News organizations, the educational system, and labor unions are at or below 20%. And President Joe Biden’s approval rating is at a net minus 12%.

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

Op-Ed: It’s time for Georgia to reign in policing for profit

By Randy Hicks

Much needed conversations are happening in recent weeks across Georgia and our nation on policing reforms. One practical area of reform that can’t fall by the wayside is this: It’s time to break the connection between policing and profit.

What do I mean? Take the case of former Atlanta Hawks’ forward Mike Scott. He was stopped by Banks County police northeast of Atlanta while driving north on I-85 to host a youth basketball summer camp. A judge later reprimanded the police department for racial profiling in the case, and there was strong evidence that police were stopping drivers passing through the county for minor offenses specifically as a way to raise funds.

As a professional athlete with a multi-million-dollar contract, Scott had the resources to take the police department to the mat. But the vast majority of Georgians in the same situation would not. This underscores the fact that poor and minority populations are disproportionately impacted by policing-for-profit schemes.

We must change the way police departments are funded so that enforcement of the law and revenue generation are clearly separate. It goes without saying that courts, government, and police shouldn’t get a penny as a result of enforcing the law. Anything less creates an incentive for corruption.

One area where reform is immediately needed is called civil asset forfeiture. This is when law enforcement takes assets from people suspected of being involved in criminal activity without requiring a conviction. Police agencies may then receive funds from the sale of the forfeited assets. Used correctly, civil asset forfeiture is an important tool to curb illegal activities and dry up the resources of criminals. But the current system lacks transparency and accountability, presenting the opportunity for abuse.

What’s worse, the lack of strong governmental oversight and transparency in our system means that, all too often, a door to discrimination and undue burden is placed on folks who are simply in desperate need of a helping hand to get back on their feet.

My organization, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, has laid out a set of recommendations to shore up the system. We should begin by fostering greater accountability by requiring randomized compliance audits. This will help to ensure that all local law enforcement agencies are accurately reporting instances of civil asset forfeiture.

Updates are also badly needed to the government’s website that houses all civil asset forfeiture reports to make it easier for law enforcement to upload their reports and easier for the public to search and download content.

We could all be victims of these sorts of asset forfeitures, but the impacts are egregious for the poor and minorities.

Imagine being pulled over and your car being confiscated by police. For anyone this would be infuriating, but imagine you are someone in poverty. You likely don’t have access to the same network of friends or family members to help you get to your job. You also likely have less flexibility with your work schedule or working remotely.

The result is that civil asset forfeiture disproportionately targets those lacking the resources to fight for the return of their property. This can also inadvertently result in the types of confrontations we have seen in recent weeks, where tensions unnecessarily escalate to deadly levels.

We believe that civil asset forfeiture reform is crucial to a thriving state. We can do that by ending the profit motive behind the system and by making it much more transparent. It is a key step to create a society where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.


This article originally appeared in the Telegraph.

Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Reopening Isn’t About Haircuts, It’s About Relieving Human Suffering

Georgia recently began the long process of reopening its economy in the wake of what it is hoped will be the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in late April, certain categories of businesses were allowed to open in Georgia, including restaurants and barber shops. The encouraging news is that infection rates have not spiked and, instead, are flattening and even declining.

Many are concerned that we’re moving too early, too fast — and that safety will take a back seat. That worry is understandable. The toll of the virus in suffering and loss of life is indescribable, as thousands of families are affected in ways they will never forget.

On the other side, many are clamoring for even quicker action to get people back to work.

In truth, both sides have it right. Our first priority should be health. Clearly, that trumps all. But a key aspect of health is not just avoiding a virus, but the full spectrum of human well-being and flourishing. And to achieve that, we can’t afford to remain on lockdown much longer.

We clearly know the economic devastation wrought by the virus: About half of low-income households have reported job or wage loss due to the coronavirus. These job losses could be felt for years as families struggle to get back on their feet — or are never able to at all, plunging them into poverty.

The toll is real. I’m thinking of young moms like Jessica (not her real name to protect her identity), who had been living in her car with her small child as a result of work cutbacks and being evicted. Stories like this one are countless.

But what about the toll on mental health and general well-being? The picture is beginning to emerge, and it’s not pretty. In fact, we are facing a public mental health crisis.

recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that more than half of U.S. adults (56 percent) report that worry related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them stress-induced symptoms like insomnia, poor appetite or overeating, or frequent headaches or stomach aches.

That’s only the beginning. We have also seen the effects of social isolation in a 1,000 percent increase in calls to distress hotlines in April alone.

Rates of substance abuse and suicide will doubtless skyrocket. One analysis predicts that if the United States reaches Depression-era level unemployment rates, we could see 18,000 additional suicides and additional overdose deaths of 22,000.

The Well Being Trust recently released a report estimating the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

During this lockdown, people are missing the ingredients that make for a flourishing life: community, relationships, purpose and belonging. And the truth is that, for many Americans, a major way they experience these benefits is through a job. It’s where we find community, socialize and discover a sense of meaning.

A job is about so much more than just a paycheck.

We know that human beings function best when they are involved with meaningful work. Until this point, the dialogue on reopening has largely focused on “essential” vs. “non-essential” jobs.

But every job is essential for the person who holds it. And not just from a financial standpoint: It’s one key gateway to what makes life meaningful for many of us.

Protecting public health and getting people back into their jobs and communities are not mutually exclusive priorities. We can, and must, do both. We can be sensitive to loss of life and human suffering during this pandemic.

But we also must acknowledge the pain of those whose means of surviving economically has been shattered.