A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

2023 agenda<br />

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

Key Points

  • Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
  • Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide.
  • Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.
As the new year dawns, we’re excited about everything we were able to accomplish with your support in 2022. But our focus is also forward, and our team is excited to expand our growth and reach into Georgia communities and beyond in 2023. Today, we’re outlining our 2023 agenda, so let’s jump right in!

Policy

Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). But we’ll also be advocating for reforms to public school funding formulas to ensure that money follows each child to the school their parents or guardians have chosen. We’ll also support legislation to expand the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Here are some of the other important areas where we’ll be focusing: 

        • Benefits Cliffs Reform Task Force: We’ll ask the legislature to appoint a joint House/Senate committee to investigate and seek out reform ideas for the welfare system’s disincentives to marriage and work.
        • Welfare/Workforce Integration: This is a critical piece of trigger legislation that would integrate Georgia and federal workforce development services and welfare benefits. Modeled after work done in Utah, integration will take effect when Congress passes legislation that allows it.
        • Prisoner Reentry: We will advocate for legislation that requires licensing boards to offer returning citizens the opportunity to get an occupational license upon release from prison. (These licenses would not be related to the crimes they were convicted for.) Based on our earlier successes changing the law, licensing boards are meant to be doing this already. But we’ve received word that they aren’t following the intended procedures. This new law would give returning citizens the right to appeal denials issued by a licensing board.
“There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”
There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”

Family

Strengthening families through better education, job opportunities, and legislation is at the heart of what we do. Many of our initiatives result in the establishment of new families, as well as adding multiple layers of stability to new and existing families. We’ll address those initiatives in other sections of this post, but for our purposes here, we’ll talk about our push to keep kids in school.

Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide. We’ll accomplish this through our Raising Highly Capable Kids curriculum. Raising Highly Capable Kids equips parents with 40 essential developmental assets, which have been shown to improve children’s academic performance dramatically. As our reach expands, we’ll zero in on serving students from Title I schools who are at risk of dropping out.

BETTER WORK

The BETTER WORK initiative serves to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find gainful employment that helps them feel fulfilled and successful. BETTER WORK ultimately contributes to better long-term financial stability for individuals and families in Georgia. We’re committed to increasing our efforts in the new year. 

When it comes to the BETTER WORK program, we have two primary goals in 2023: 

  1. Growing our community program reach in Columbus and Gwinnett counties. We’re aiming for a combined total of 1,000 job candidates in 2023. Part of this initiative includes optimizing our mentors’ effectiveness through additional training and content. We’ll also be expanding training options for job candidates to help them prepare for the job market.
  2. Using the lessons we’ve learned from implementing BETTER WORK and creating a replicable model we can take into other communities. 

Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.

Education 

Throughout 2023, the Georgia Center for Opportunity will work toward equipping Georgia parents with essential tools and skills for finding the best learning opportunities and environments for their children. We’ll also assist them with learning how to access funding and scholarships that will help to pay for their children’s education. These combined efforts will provide parents with a more substantial voice as they advocate for better educational options. 

The Georgia General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 517, effectively raising the state Tax Credit Scholarship Program cap from $100 million to $120 million per year. In addition, HB517 removes the automatic program sunset and doubles how much individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations can contribute. While we appreciate the marginal gain of $20 million and the strengthened tax-credit program, we would have liked to see the Senate raise the cap to the House’s proposed $200 million. Hopefully, in the next legislative session, the cap will be increased further. 

Still, thousands of children in Georgia will benefit from this broadened access to high-quality education. Regardless of our organizational stance on the finalized legislation, we celebrate the educational opportunities these children will enjoy.
 

Alliance for Opportunity

In the coming year, we’ll be working alongside our partners in Louisiana and Texas to forward our joint effort to improve our respective states’ employment, welfare systems, and criminal justice policies. We’ll focus on partnering with our Congressional representatives to advocate for and advance legislation that would give states the ability to reform their workforce development and welfare programs. Ultimately, our goal is to help those programs work together seamlessly, without discouraging marriage or gainful employment. 

 

Wrapping Up

There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges. As 2023 unfolds, we remain dedicated to supporting our Georgia communities and beyond, going above and beyond to help improve policy and strengthen families, careers, and educational opportunities. Once again, we’re grateful for your support! 

 

A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

year in review 2022

A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, let’s take a moment to share some of the many accomplishments the Georgia Center for Opportunity achieved with your help this year. Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family. 

While we’re proud of the year’s progress, we’re also incredibly grateful for your support. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done together.

 

Work

BETTER WORK is a core part of the GCO’s mission to help vulnerable populations gain the skills needed to thrive in a job and a career. In 2022, we made big strides forward in growing this program.

Our BETTER WORK chapters in Gwinnett County and Columbus experienced significant growth this year. Over 400 people applied to the programs, and we recruited 95 employer partners and 42 mentors. We also began offering on-site service at local cooperative ministries.

Dovetailing with our mission to help our neighbors thrive through work, we seek to reform the social safety-net system to ensure that it doesn’t punish people for working. A large part of this has been through our work on benefits cliffs, which unfairly punish people for moving up the economic ladder. On this front, we rolled 12 states into the program at BenefitsCliffs.org, which now covers one-third of the U.S. population. We also presented to national audiences on benefits cliffs: SNAP congressional testimony, the American Legislative Exchange Council, State Policy Network annual meeting, the Heritage Foundation, True Charity Summit, and the Kentucky legislature benefits cliffs joint committee.

We launched a project in Missouri and North Carolina to advance social safety-net reforms in those states. Additionally, we recruited a congressional sponsor to introduce a bill allowing all states to integrate workforce development into their welfare programs. Both BETTER WORK and our benefits cliffs work are making an impact on a national scale, and we anticipate building more momentum in the coming years.

 

Education

Expanding opportunity necessarily includes greater access to better education, which directly leads to better careers. During the 2022 session of the Georgia Legislature, the GCO team successfully advocated for a bill that expanded the tuition tax credit scholarship by $200 million dollars. The result: an additional 4,000+ students now have access to this important program. 

We also backed a bill that would have created Promise Scholarship Accounts, which would have offered families up to $6,000 a year for approved education expenses. Unfortunately, this bill was voted down in committee, but we are optimistic similar legislation will be passed in the upcoming 2023 session. To advocate for the bill, a GCO marketing campaign resulted in 7,573 calls to lawmakers in support of the bill and 1,050 messages across 21 districts.

“Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family.”

“Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family.”

Family

A great education and involvement in meaningful work are not sufficient. We also need healthy relationships in order to thrive. That’s why another part of GCO’s mission is to strengthen couples and families. On that front, we recruited more than 500 people to participate in relationship-enrichment training, and we offered the classes in seven public schools and seven nonprofit partner agencies. University of Georgia assessments continue to show our programs improve knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors — all best future predictors of improved relational health.

 

Looking Ahead to 2023

As 2023 approaches, we’re so excited for what the future holds. With another year comes new opportunities to help not only our fellow Georgians, but people across America to find better work, better education, and stronger family relationships. Again, we thank you for your generous support and look forward to what unfolds in the New Year.

 

Nearly half a million Georgians have given up on work

Nearly half a million Georgians have given up on work

People working

Nearly half a million Georgians have given up on work

Key Points

  • Around 454,100 Georgians are missing from the labor force.
  • The labor force participation rate is a better barometer of the labor market than the unemployment rate because it includes workers who have simply given up looking for work and are sitting on the sidelines of the labor market altogether.
  • We need to answer, how to reintegrate these prime-age, work-capable workers back into the labor force?

A new analysis from the Georgia Center for Opportunity shows that around 454,100 Georgians are missing from the labor force. This figure comes even as pundits celebrate a statewide and national unemployment rate that remains at historic lows. 

The startling statistic shows a hidden story behind the unemployment rate that reveals deeper cracks in the labor market that will cause problems for years to come, both in the economy and in individuals’ lives. The reason why this matters is not strictly an economic one — we know that these individuals’ giving up on work has profound social, psychological, and relational impacts that extend well beyond the pocketbook.

When individuals are separated from work, they lose more than just monetary compensation or the food, shelter, clothing, and other basics that money can buy. They also face a loss of social connection, meaningful activity, self-respect, and overall purpose.

 

The numbers

Here’s a quick deep dive into the numbers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Nov. 4 that the unemployment rate rose to 3.7%, which is a tick higher than the previous low of 3.5% but still at historic lows. Georgia’s unemployment rate stands at 2.7%, 14th best in the nation.

The troubling trend is in the labor force participation rate, however. This rate is a better barometer of the labor market than the unemployment rate because it includes workers who have simply given up looking for work and are sitting on the sidelines of the labor market altogether. The U.S. labor force participation rate was at 62.2% in October, down from a pre-pandemic rate of 63.4% in February 2020.

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Those detached from work

It’s important to note that the 454,100 figure developed by the GCO team does not include those unable to work, those who were retired, those in school or college full-time, and full-time caregivers for minor children in the home. In other words, that nearly half-million figure is people who are able to work but have simply decided to detach from the labor force altogether, for some other reason.

As for reasons why workers have quit, they are widespread and complex. The better question is how to reintegrate these prime-age, work-capable workers back into the labor force. That is a primary goal of the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s BETTER WORK initiative, currently operating in Gwinnett County and the Columbus areas of Georgia but soon to expand into many additional regions across the state. 

We see success stories like that of Eddie, who spent nearly five years on the street, homeless and working odd jobs, before getting connected with BETTER WORK Columbus and partner organizations to find stable housing, food security, and a long-term job. The goal of such programs is to get people into stable, self-supporting work so they can escape poverty and dependency cycles.

The GCO team also works to educate policymakers on the perils of benefits cliffs that keep people trapped in cycles of dependency and prevent them from moving up the economic ladder. People like Frankie, a single mom who turned down a $70,000-a-year job because it would mean losing essential government benefits that she relied on to support her family. The goal here is for policymakers to make wise decisions about the safety net so that we don’t continue to pour funds into a failing system.

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Meet Eric Watson of Express Employment Professionals

Key Points

  • Express Employment professionals works with 70 companies in Gwinnett and in DeKalb Counties to help them find top talent.
  • Eric has utilized the BETTER WORK portal to help job seekers streamline the application process. 

  • Workers are getting multiple jobs to cover all these expenses to sustain their quality of life amidst inflation.

A BETTER WORK Partner who helps job seekers find positions where they can thrive

Eric Watson and his wife started Express Employment Professionals almost two decades ago. They focus primarily on long-term contract staffing in manufacturing, warehousing logistics, office administration, and professional placement. Express Employment professionals works with 70 companies in Gwinnett and in DeKalb Counties to help them find top talent. 

“Once we’ve helped these companies find good people, the company will either hire them immediately as a direct hire, or they’ll attempt to hire,” Eric says.

For employees who aren’t brought in as immediate direct hires, Express Employment professionals takes them on temporarily for a 90-day period, after which they’re released and hired full-time by their respective companies.

 

Helping a diverse job seeker base find employment

Eric and his team work with a wide range of individuals, communities, and organizations to place strong job candidates with the companies that need them. They partner with nonprofits in both Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties. Some of these organizations include Goodwill, resettlement agencies in Clarkston, and Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) in Chamblee. 

Additionally, Eric works with Neighborhood Cooperative Ministries in Norcross, who ultimately referred him to BETTER WORK. Since our partnership with Eric began, he has utilized the BETTER WORK portal to help job seekers streamline the application process. 

“It’s very easy for us because BETTER WORK applicants apply on the portal,” Eric says. “We get emails periodically from folks who are interested in applying for our open positions.

“We have someone designated in my office who determines if we’ve got a position, and whether applicants match the skill set and experience there we’re looking for. Then, we schedule them for an interview, bring them in, and hopefully get them placed very quickly.”

Eric and his team provide a monthly flier highlighting the top job openings available through BETTER WORK. It’s a one-page sheet listing positions they’re trying to fill, including jobs in office administration, accounting, human resources, manufacturing, warehousing, specialty staffing, and more.

“It’s very easy for us because BETTER WORK applicants apply on the portal.”   

               Eric Watson 

 

 

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Common employment obstacles in Gwinnett County 

In the current environment, both employers and job seekers alike are facing a plethora of obstacles. According to Eric, Gwinnett County’s greatest employer obstacle is finding workers. 

“Our biggest challenge is finding workers who are work-ready,” he says. “There seems to be a huge shortage of folks who are available and willing to work. I think we’re very close to, if not at full, employment. It’s just very, very difficult.” 

Eric says that it’s common for workers to leave the jobs they’re placed in within days to weeks of beginning work. Company loyalty has become a thing of the past, and workers are more prone to moving from one job to another rather than staying in one place. 

“I think workers are trying to seek out the best compensation package,” Eric says. “A lot of times, that includes more benefits. On the flip side, I think employers are starting to offer more flexible work schedules to attract folks.” 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric says it was more difficult for workers to find flexible jobs. However, he’s observed that employers are more willing to consider flexibility these days. 

For workers, the greatest roadblock is making enough money to sustain their quality of life amidst inflation and skyrocketing prices of gas, food, and necessities. Since disposable income is dropping, Eric says workers are getting multiple jobs to cover all these expenses.

“Workers may have a primary job,” Eric says, “but then they have a secondary job after hours or on the weekends just to make ends meet.” 

Because of companies’ need for workers and workers’ need for flexibility and a stronger income, Eric says this is a workers’ market. One of his most memorable job placements was a woman from Lilburn who was looking for a company that would accommodate the schedule she needed. 

“A packaging company in Stone Mountain, about 15 minutes from her home, accommodated her on the schedule she asked for,” Eric says. “It’s not a traditional 8-to-5, Monday through Friday. She was able to work in the middle of the afternoon till the early evening hours.

“The company was able to accommodate her in order to be able to get her. She’s very happy and is working toward permanent employment.”

BETTER WORK is proud to partner with businesses and community organizations like Express Employment Professionals. This collaboration in the Georgia communities of Gwinnett County in metro Atlanta and Columbus prepares lower income populations for a better future through meaningful work and upward mobility. Businesses, nonprofits, community providers, religious institutions, and job placement agencies all come together to provide a local safety net.

Learn more about Express Employment Professionals here.

 

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Man on steps holding sign that reads jobless, will work for mortgage

Roadblocks to work make the world a sticky place

Key Points

  • The hindrances to people finding work goes far beyond an unwillingness or inability to work.
  • Those looking for work face many barriers that range from circumstantial to systemic and even policy roadblocks.
  • It is important that we understand the roadblocks faced by those looking for work so that we can properly address them as we move people into work opportunities.

A story about work barriers

I met a gentleman earlier this year (we’ll call him Lenny) who stated that “he just wants to work”. His basic needs are being met, at least for now, but he can’t stand the idea that he isn’t able to contribute. While talking to Lenny and hearing his story, I realized just how many physical roadblocks he has to overcome in order to start a job, show up at a job site every single day to do the work, and get a paycheck. There are basic requirements, the things that most people take for granted as necessary and easy, that create huge barriers for Lenny.

I will share a few of these physical roadblocks below that Better Work is addressing as we work with Lenny.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

Joyelle wasn’t looking for a handout, she was looking for an opportunity to provide and support her family.

 Transportation

This is one of the first barriers Lenny has to consider that impacts his ability to work. His main mode of transportation is walking. He walks to shop. He walks to appointments. He walks to work when he can. Lenny will also take the bus if it is available when and where he needs to go. He has no other options for transportation.

This means that Lenny can’t work in positions that start before the bus can get him there or end after the bus stops running (currently at 8:30pm) unless that business is close enough for him to walk. He also can’t accept jobs that require him to work on Sundays because no public transportation is currently available then.

Inconsistent Work

The transportation challenges described above have caused Lenny to leave a position he worked in faithfully for 2.5 months to look for another. A change in scheduling meant he was no longer able to stay in this job. This can lead to job hopping and means Lenny is unable to get the traction he needs to set goals, get raises, and improve his current situation.

Technology

Lenny has never really used computers as most of his past work has been in jobs requiring physical labor. He has a phone and recently set up an email address but doesn’t really understand how to check it or communicate that way. This creates additional limitations in a world that more often than not requires communication via technology at every level and for any occupation.

Applications and Hiring Paperwork

Most job applications are online as well as the forms that must be completed during hiring. All of this is necessary. How else will hiring managers collect the information they need to pay you and to protect your data. These online requirements can become a roadblock for someone like Lenny.

Lenny is not so very different from others I talk to on a weekly basis. He is actually in a better position than some. Fortunately, Lenny has an ID. Many don’t. Lenny doesn’t have children at home. Many do.

Society is quick to judge people who are not working. We are quick to label them as lazy. I ask you to consider what you would do if you were in Lenny’s place. The barriers mentioned above are just a drop in the bucket for people who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of need.

Meanwhile, Lenny continues to fight for what is important to him – the dignity of work!

Better Work Columbus will continue to fight alongside Lenny and support others like him. I urge you to be slow to judge, wary of pointing fingers, and quick to show encouragement.

 

 

June CPI exceeded expectations and was the fastest pace for inflation in four decades

June CPI exceeded expectations and was the fastest pace for inflation in four decades

inflation swells

June CPI exceeded expectations and was the fastest pace for inflation in four decades

Key Points

  • Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 1.3
  • June CPI exceeded expectations
  • Fastest pace for inflation in four decades

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that in June the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 1.3, not seasonally adjusted. Year over year, the CPI has gone up 9.1% in the last 12 months. The June CPI exceeded expectations and was the fastest pace for inflation in four decades.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “This new inflation reading ranks among the worst monthly inflation rates in U.S. history, and the worst in recent history,” said Erik Randolph, GCO’s director of research. “We have to go back to March 1980 — the last year of the Carter administration — to find a higher monthly inflation rate. The bottom line is that we may not have reached peak inflation, and there’s no telling how long the price level crisis will persist. Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the White House and Congress will do little to rectify the situation. There needs to be new thinking within the Washington Beltway.”

GA unemployment 3%