Jobs, Not Services

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Any local nonprofit leader in Los Angeles who read the release of “A Time for Truth”, the 2020 Commission’s long anticipated report on the city’s economic future, could be forgiven for packing his or her bags and fleeing town.

The lead paragraph from the L.A. Times front-page article pretty much sums it up:

“Los Angeles is a city facing economic decline, weighed down by poverty, strangled by traffic and suffering from a crisis of leadership, according to a report released Wednesday by a 13-member panel of influential civic leaders.”

It went on to report….

“The Los Angeles 2020 Commission offered a harsh assessment of government decision-making, warning that the nation’s second-largest city is heading to a future where it can no longer afford to provide public services. Among a litany of problems highlighted in the report are underfunded retirement programs for City Hall employees, slower police and fire response times, and government spending that is growing faster than revenue.”

Now, many U.S. cities face similar economic uncertainties, and Detroit’s recent bankruptcy only re-enforces the grim reality that no city is immune to downturns too steep to turn around. But for those who run direct service programs, this story should solicit an urgent assessment of their plans for the future.

In short…if organizations cannot meet the need now, what happens when the number of people seeking “services” explodes due to shortfalls of wage, housing, personal savings or employment opportunities…as well as demographic certainties, like the explosion of older Americans as the baby Boomers begin to age out?

My suggestion is simple. Just as many complain (rightly) that we need to move beyond the Milton Freedman inspired notion that the #1 rule of business is to make profit for shareholders, then we should be similarly prepared for nonprofits to move past the equally antiquated notion that their main role is to “provide services”.

In a nutshell…is it time for nonprofits to start creating businesses to employ the men and women we have traditionally “trained” for work, or simply served?

I always look forward to the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on employment trends for the next decade. The latest report could fuel many new opportunities, as many of the jobs listed could easily fall under the missions of many nonprofits.

For example…they project that Home Healthcare Aides and Personal Care Aides will grow by over 900,000 jobs…but they project an income of about $20,000 for these gigs, which would put that employee in the food pantry line by months end. Same for other top jobs…like nursing assistants (projected to grow by 312,000 jobs) or childcare workers (183,000 jobs) or food prep (421,000 jobs). None of these jobs are projected to pay over $30,000. Is that OK? Do we want that to happen? Well, it will, unless we do something.

That’s why I suggest (strongly) that nonprofits not only train men and women for those jobs, but also launch the businesses that would employ them, and instead of redirecting profits to distant shareholders, they invested profit back into the company and community via good wages and employ profit sharing plans? That’s been my model for years, and its what we’ll be doing here at the L.A. Kitchen when we open. More importantly, its JUST that kind of business that every mayor should be clamoring for. Seriously…we’re like a dream come true for any town…we hire those who would cost society BIG money if they went back to prison, the streets or a life of substance abuse. We would pay good wages and provide benefits AND we’d reinvest any profit back into the community over and over and over again. What’s not to like…and more to the point, what do we have to loose?

I urge you to check out the BoLS list to see if any of the jobs listed are jobs YOU could create!!

I know its farfetched for most….but the alternative is in black and white…in the L.A. Times.