By Bill McGahan
Georgia Works! helps formerly incarcerated and homeless men become productive citizens. Since our founding in 2013 we have helped 311 men get jobs, remain clean and get an apartment, and virtually all have not returned to prison. We have an additional 170 men in the program today, all working toward full-time employment.
When a man comes to our voluntary program we ask him to do three things:
- Be clean of alcohol and drugs (we drug test everybody weekly)
- Take no handouts from the government or anyone else
Over the course of 6-12 months we work with each of our clients on their “obstacles” to employment: the lack of a driver’s license, wage garnishments, criminal history, lack of a high school diploma, past due fines, lack of a bank account – to name a few.
More importantly, we work with each client on the underlying cause of his problems, which is typically an addiction, past abuse, or a psychological problem. Each person is assigned to a case manager who they meet with daily. We have in-house AA/NA meetings, GED classes, one-on-one counseling, anger management classes, health care and financial planning courses, among others.
The key thing that makes us different is that we run a staffing business within this nonprofit organization, contracting directly with 30-40 businesses around Atlanta for their labor needs, and over 100 of our men go to work for these employers every day while they live at our facility. The staffing business is a way for employers to “try out” an employee in a low-risk way.
Most of the men end up getting full-time job offers from the private employers that are customers of our staffing business, and the rest get jobs in the marketplace.
So, while a man is at Georgia Works! he is learning how to be a valuable employee at a private business, he eliminating the obstacles that might prevent him from being employed, and he is working on his addiction or other problem that is the root cause of his problems.
He is also making money through his own work, not though a handout. We have a mandatory savings program, and most participants save $2,000-$3,000 by the time they leave.
Georgia Works! is funded completely by private sources (including me). We take no government funding of any kind. I take no salary or reimbursement for any expenses. Our staffing business funds almost the entire cost of running the operation.
Several things I have learned since I founded Georgia Works!:
- There is no shortage of jobs. (According to snagajob.com, 30,000 jobs are available in Georgia). In fact, there is a labor shortage in some sectors, including construction, food and beverage, commercial truck driving, auto repair, etc.
- The people in our program range from poorly educated to very smart. We have people who stopped in the eighth grade and others with Ph.Ds. So, we don’t need just low-skill jobs or high-tech jobs – we need a menu of all types of jobs
- Individuals don’t need to be highly trained to get a job with career prospects. Many men leave our program and begin full-time work in the $13-$15 range without any training at all. Employers will train the people so long as they perceive them to be worth the investment.
- The biggest problem is bad habits, not a lack of intelligence or poor schooling. The scarce commodity is the individual, regardless of his past, who works hard, takes direction well, has good habits and will stay on the job past the first few paychecks.
- Many formerly incarcerated returning citizens and former homeless people are terrific employees. They are eager to get their lives moving in the right direction and they know that they don’t have a lot more chances. Many former drug dealers are entrepreneurial, creative and personable, and our employer customers tell us that they are some of their most valuable employees.
A Georgia Tech study on Georgia Works! that found that we saved our community $6 to $11 for every dollar invested in our program, mostly because our graduates don’t go back to prison and recidivism drops like a stone.
Georgia Works! can graduate an individual to self-sufficiency and being a taxpayer for less than $2,500. Compare that to the $20,000 a year to incarcerate a person in the State of Georgia.
How can state and federal government help?
Stop taking away driver’s licenses for anything other than poor driving. Driver’s licenses are suspended in some states for drug offenses, failure to pay child support, and other reasons. Most jobs require an individual to have a driver’s license.
Wage garnishments, particularly for past-due child support, cripple poor men and ex-offenders. A man with a low hourly wage simply cannot support himself with significant wage garnishments, almost forcing him into “under the table” jobs or illegal activity.
Promote programs for returning citizens and homeless people like Georgia Works! that ready people for work, change bad habits, eliminate barriers, and provide employment opportunities.
This commentary by Bill McGahan, Chairman and Founder of Georgia Works! is adapted from his testimony on June 29, 2017, before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and is reprinted with permission by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (June 30, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.
View his testimony online at https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/McGahan-GeorgiaWorks-Statement-6-28-Reducing-Recidivism.pdf