Want to Create Jobs? Don't Forget Low-Hanging Fruit in Nonprofits

The President's focus on job creation in the State of the Union was good news. Investing in community colleges and high speed rail to create new industries and develop a pipeline for people to move into careers is a great first step to re-employ America. We applaud the big ideas, but we'd like to point out where they are missing some-low hanging fruit.

The nonprofit sector employs 500,000 in New York, and 12.9 million individuals nationally. In New York alone the government contracts out about $4 billion to non profit organizations. Each nonprofit job brings value to a community. These workers provide services where there is a growing demand, particularly in this recession. One youth worker (average salary in New York is about $30,000) helps about 50 to 75 young people a year. They help them stay in school, avoid pregnancy, consider college, participate in civic and community activities, get familiar with the arts, and understand their own potential. One outreach worker saves hundreds of lives connecting at risk people with HIV/AIDs testing information, and linking them to appropriate services.

Jobs in the nonprofit sector are often local hires. They live in the neighborhoods they serve and most of the people in the nonprofit sector do not commute to work. Nonprofits often offer staff development, and as part of the social compact with their staffs, they try very hard to offer health benefits. (It's true that more and more nonprofits are unable to afford health benefits for their staff, but many are holding the line, until the Republicans come to their senses.) The point is that nonprofits pride themselves on offering benefits and will avoid that cut until the bitter end.

Most of the nonprofit sector is being forced to contract, even as demand for their services increase. The sad reality of a "waiting list" or a "referral elsewhere" because "we just can't take any more people in" is ever more common. New York has a particularly stellar track record in the services that nonprofits provide. The leadership of New York City nonprofit organizations has been determined to build solid organizations, and over the last thirty years, Community Resource Exchange has worked diligently to help thousands of nonprofits operate with the right business systems and structure. We know first hand that the sector is well poised to handle this onslaught of need, if it can find the financial support to do it. Looking at the sector as a ready made job development program would be an idea smart enough for this President.