Spotlight Exclusives

A Cost-Effective Solution to Poverty

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As policymakers and advocates around the country look for ways to help low-income people transition to employment, my organization, Cincinnati Works, believes that the key to success lies in some important principles that we۪ve learned over the years.


In the Cincinnati region, there are 185,500 people living in poverty. Our target audience people we have identified that we are able to help totals 103,000 adults who have about 167,000 children. We established Cincinnati Works in 1996 for the purpose of assisting these poor people in the region escape poverty through employment.


In a place like Cincinnati, you can expect to see a variety of job seekers from a variety of communities. There are entry level jobs available in a variety of industries, including banking, clerical, healthcare, janitorial, production, retail, security, transportation, and food service. Programs that seek to lift people out of poverty through gainful employment should take this diversity of people and jobs into account.


Through following our principles, we have many positive stories to tell about our job seekers. Take Shauna, whose story has encouraged others to keep striving to reach their goals. All through high school Shauna dreamed of a career in healthcare. Realizing her dream, however, proved to be difficult for her. She struggled with and failed the nursing exam. She became disheartened and found a job in another field but was terminated.


One way Cincinnati Works helped Shauna was by assigning her an Employment Support Specialistin this case a woman named Nancy.  Nancy got to the root of the barriers that were preventing Shauna from pressing on. Her feelings of despondency were overwhelming. Nancy reassured her that together they would find the right job for her. Shauna was encouraged to enroll in a Health Aide Training program and then successfully found a job at the Blackstone Home Care Agency.


During the 14 years we have been in business, we have discovered some principles that we believe work, and some we think don۪t. We believe a successful jobs program should follow these guidelines:


·         Business Principles: we believe success is related to the principles that guide the program. A program should operate by standard business principles including annually audited financials, a written business plan, a board-driven strategic plan and specific measurable outcomes and measurements


·         Private Funding: it is important to be independent of government funding. We observed that other organizations receiving government money are limited in who they can serve and how they can serve them. A successful program needs to be able to quickly make necessary changes in order to better serve job seekers


·         Research-Based: being research-based is the key to developing sound decision-making process and routinely challenging assumptions. When facing a business problem, conducting research can help solve the problem


·         Holistic Approach: work toward assisting job seekers in removing or minimizing all barriers to employment. Many individuals have more than one barrier and unless they are able to deal with all of their barriers, they will not be successful obtaining and keeping a job. Some examples of barriers are adequate childcare, transportation, legal issues, lack of work clothes, mental health problems, and maintaining a job once an individual is employed


·         Helping Employers: we believe a jobs program has two customers: our members and our employers. We believe a strong program doesn۪t ask employers to hire its members as a favor. We realize that employers are running a business and need to operate in the most effective and efficient way possible and a jobs program should offer the best candidates available


·         Focus on Retention: provide retention services to job seekers. Many individuals can get a job, but find it almost impossible to retain it. It often takes at least a year for someone to become stable in a job. It is important to keep in close contact during that first year of employment and, many times, you can help someone avoid losing his or her position


·         Working towards Self-Sufficiency: by offering advancement services, a program can assist individuals who have become stable in the workplace begin the process toward securing a job that pays a self-sufficient wage. That may involve getting a driver۪s license, taking a computer course, taking a skills training course, etc


Because of the principles that guide Cincinnati Works, we have created an organization that accomplishes very good results at an effective and efficient cost per placement. Our fully-loaded cost per placement is less than $3,000, with a retention rate of 80 percent, after one year. We have assisted with almost 6,000 employments to date.


We realize that some people are not physically or mentally able to work and society must care for them. But for the most part, people in poverty are able to work and retain their job if they receive some assistance in removing barriers.


Helping people to work is an incredibly good investment. Since our inception in 1996, Cincinnati Works has spent $8,000,000 securing employment for those in need. Last year, the total amount of wages earned by our members for that one year alone was approximately $75,000,000.


The investment in dollars speaks for itself.  Programs in other communities might boost their own success through following some of the proposed guidelines we۪ve learned along the way.


For more information about Cincinnati Works, go to

To print a PDF version of this document, click here.


Liane Phillips is the co-founder of Cincinnati Works along with her husband, Dave. She also recently co-authored Why Don۪t They Just Get a Job? with Echo Montgomery Garrett.

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