When former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey starts his new post as the director of the city’s Employment and Training Commission this week, he could arguably become one of the most scrutinized directors in the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop.
As the second largest city in a state that has been slow to recover from the recession, McGreevey will be tasked with helping Jersey City’s unemployed connect to jobs. In addition, his office will help the administration meet its goal of employing thousands of out-of-work inner city black and Latino men who have been barred from jobs due to criminal records.
While the city has had such a program for years, known as the Second Chance Program, Fulop has said he wants to expand on the goals of Second Chance and implement a more comprehensive approach to employing the people who are perhaps the hardest to employ.
‘This is an important service because this is about linking people with economic self-sufficiency.’ – James McGreevey
But in a recent brief interview about the program, and specifically his charge to help find jobs for ex-offenders, McGreevey began to lay out how he plans to meet this challenge.
McGreevey: ‘We want to see our young people employed’
The former governor knows there are skeptics in the city.
Ward C City Councilman Richard Boggiano recently said, “You know, it’s a well and good to have job training, but what are we training these people for? At the end of the day, it’s meaningless to train people for jobs that aren’t there. So, while I’m all for job training, we have to talk about job creation.”
McGreevey said he agrees.
“We, as a community, have to connect young people to real, tangible jobs,” McGreevey, a seminary school graduate, said. “When I was in seminary I worked in Harlem, and we did prisoner reentry work. We sat with businesses in their corporate headquarters and said, ‘Look, you preclude many young people from entering the workforce. So I need to you to say, if someone was a [low-level, non-violent offender], you’d be willing to consider them for employment.’ And several of them did that because were we able to negotiate with them. We were negotiating for a community where the people we were training had a place to go once they were done with that training.”
Such negotiating, he added, will also be part of his work here in Jersey City with the Employment and Training Commission. McGreevey said he hopes to make “systemic” changes, both in the lives of the ex-offenders he will be working with, and within the business community.
“The president just recently conducted a tour of community colleges talking about education and skill development being critical to economic empowerment,” McGreevey said. “I look at this as a mission. This isn’t simply another government program. This is about job training and skill-based development. This is an important service because this is about linking with people economic self-sufficiency. And from a public policy sense, it makes sense because we want to see our residents, our young people, employed, rather than doing other things that have long-term negative consequences for our community.”
The issue of linking ex-offenders to jobs has emerged as a major urban issue in recent years as millions of young people – largely men of color – find themselves barred from jobs due to criminal records. This, public officials in both political parties have pointed out, makes these men unable to economically support themselves and any children they have, which in turn places further economic burdens on taxpayers who are left supporting those children through social service programs.
Men who continue to commit crime to support themselves also become a financial burden within the criminal justice system.
Thus, policymakers have recognized there is a need to change this cycle.
Glenn E. Martin, spokesman for the Fortune Society in New York, has looked at what types of job training/work programs have been most effective with ex-offenders.
“The best [locally run] programs that have had the greatest success are those that have created partnerships between local government and nonprofits,” said Martin. “Generally, the municipality will agree to help fund a portion of the wages paid to the ex-offenders, and the nonprofits agree to make a few hires for a limited period of time, say six months.”
Martin said these programs help ex-offenders build work experience while earning a wage, which makes it easier for them to market themselves to employers in the private or public sector later.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.