Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Investing in good jobs as a road out of poverty

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Dependable Source
The most recent graduates of the Dependable Source driving school in Jackson, Mississippi will finish training and transition directly into full-time jobs with wages at least three times the state minimum wage. Courtesy Photo

The "Good Jobs" program in Mississippi and Louisiana seeks to empower people in historically marginalized communities to find a way to break out of the cycle of working poverty.

Mary Babic: Thanks for sharing the photograph of the most recent graduates of the Dependable Source driving school in Jackson, Mississippi. The women are just beaming; it radiates with their sense of accomplishment and hope for the future.

What are their prospects now that they've completed the course? What kinds of jobs will they have, and what will the compensation and conditions be like?

Theresa Kennedy: Thanks for this chance to share about DSC. Yes, they are beaming, excited and ready for several reasons!

1) Because of the needs within the transportation industry--and the personal and professional needs of students--job placement happens before enrollment or by the first week of training at DSC.

2) These women are now CDL Professional Drivers with a starting pay of $45,000-$50,000 (CDL: Commercial Driver’s License). These are OTR (Over the Road, long distance trips) positions; the starting salary during the four to six weeks of OTR training averages $800-$1000 weekly. Salaries can average higher once the drivers are seated in their own trucks and running solo.

3) They get an opportunity to advance and change the trajectory of their family’s future.

Mary Babic: Tell us about the women who engage in this program; how does the idea of driving a truck fit in their lives?

Theresa Kennedy: The women in this program want better for themselves and their families; and this program has empowered them! I’ve heard several of the women speak specifically about the higher wages, as well as the flexibility in determining their work schedules.

Some prefer working short hauls and being at home every night, while others are okay with being on the road during the week and home on the weekends. While many of them have families, they are finding a way to make it all work out.

During the first 60 days, they will be out mostly a week at a time. Some will be home every day or every other day if they are on dedicated routes. It varies based on the company and commodity they choose.

Mary Babic: Dependable Source is one of Oxfam’s partners in our “Good Jobs” program in Mississippi and Louisiana, funded by a grant from Kellogg. Can you say more about the idea of investing in training people for “good jobs”? What characterizes a “bad job,” and why do people get trapped there? What do you think characterizes a “good job,” and how do we mobilize workers and organizations to get trained and placed?

Theresa Kennedy: Overall, an investment in training people for good jobs helps the economy. The “Good Jobs” initiative strengthens the quality of job and employment access in Mississippi and Louisiana for vulnerable communities--including low-wage Black women and formerly incarcerated individuals.

Bad jobs include those that pay at or below the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), have few if any upward advancement opportunities, and may feature dangerous working conditions. I believe there are several reasons why people get trapped in these jobs--lack of access, exposure, and resources to their environment and sphere of influences.

Our workforce training partners help participants overcome barriers to finding and keeping jobs; problems include inadequate transportation, lack of childcare, or mental health challenges.

For individuals released from prison in Mississippi without stable housing, we provide a direct pipeline to workforce training, re-entry support, and job placement.

By training women in unconventional trades, we enable women to access jobs that tend to have higher wages and carry greater benefits than sectors where women are predominant.

DSC is finalizing a pilot plan now which will enable women to finish the training. They give each parent six months of childcare after graduation; additional wraparound services include transportation and meals during training, and “road to success” skills and mentoring after graduation. The pilot will provide workforce training for 20 women.

Mary Babic: The program also supports New Way Mississippi, which is a great organization that houses, trains, and places returning citizens (people leaving incarceration). It provide such a vital service for people who need an address and a job while they’re transitioning. This is important everywhere in the US, but especially in Mississippi, where the incarceration rates are disproportionately (and shockingly) high.

Theresa Kennedy: New Way Mississippi, Inc. encourages program participants to get a job and stay out of prison; the organization provides returning citizens with housing, food, and employment training classes.

We support the organization as it focuses on both hard and soft skills, engages directly with employers to create placement opportunities, and helps participants overcome barriers to finding and keeping jobs (such as inadequate transportation, unstable housing, and/or mental health challenges).

Mary Babic: The Good Jobs program focuses on Mississippi and Louisiana, and with good reason. The two states have the highest poverty levels in the US (18.7% and 17.8% overall; 26% and 24.3% for children). How can this program position working families to break out of the cycle of working poverty?

Theresa Kennedy: Our program is specifically aimed at helping families break out of the cycle of poverty. Our key goals and strategies support low-wage workers to find good jobs and secure protections; advocate and educate for better state policies (such as increasing minimum wages, mandating pay equity and paid family and sick leave); and building up our partners through funding, technical assistance, and on-the-ground leadership.

Mary Babic: Both states also feature recalcitrant legislatures that have for decades refused to make progressive changes that would support working families. Mississippi in particular–the states ranks near the bottom of Oxfam’s Best States to Work Index every year. The laws are just stuck: minimum wage is $7.25 an hour; there’s no mandate for paid leave of any kind; the so-called “right-to-work” law inhibits efforts to organize. Yet Oxfam and other organizations continue to push for positive change. Do you have any hope that that can be realized?

Theresa Kennedy: I do believe we need more strategic planning and innovative ideas on how our partners are approaching the work as well as working around the hurdles.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared that “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Given the current state of Mississippi, we can’t afford to not push for positive change; we cannot not hope.