Let them work: Men's work programs give families and communities a leg up
Not all work programs are as formal as Year Up. Several months after leaving prison, Weaver was given a six-month internship with RecycleForce, an Indianapolis-based plastics recycling company that gives work opportunities to men with criminal records.
Weaver worked hard and eventually was hired on full time. He is coming up on his one-year anniversary with the company. He makes $9 per hour working 40 hours a week.
While he'd like to make more money, his newfound stability gives him hope for the future.
"I may not like where I am at right now, but I am right with God, and this (job) is not my last stop," he said.
He likes knowing that his children, ages 4 to 26, see their father out there working hard, setting a positive example. "My kids are going to walk a different path than me," he said.
Need for employers
Walton and Weaver credit the work programs they participated in for helping them transition into their new lives. They also realize they were extremely lucky to be selected. Getting this kind of support is actually quite difficult — at least 12 states in the country do not offer any kind of responsible fatherhood work training programs. In other states the wait time for participation extends for months.
Access is limited because helping men successfully participate in the mainstream economy has not been a policy priority for the government, said New York University political science professor Lawrence Mead. The majority of income support programs like CHIP, which covers the health insurance for children under the age of 18, and EITC, which supplements disadvantaged families incomes, are mainly for women and children.
Compounding the problem is that most work training programs are also geared toward women. It's problematic, according to Mead, because one of the best ways to help children and women move out of poverty is for fathers to be gainfully employed.
Vicky Turetsky of the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., agrees. "The bottom line is we need some government involvement in working with men as well as women."
The reach of programs like Year Up is limited by their ability to find corporations willing to give internships to program participants, according to Chicago-based marketing specialist for Year Up Daisy Morin. It may seem like a risk, but it can change lives. Weaver and Walton both emphasize the importance of finding willing employers.
"We want to work. We need to work," said Weaver. "We just need someone to give us a chance."
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