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Suited for Success

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Sheri K. Cole, Executive Director of Career Wardrobe

Seventy percent of low-wage workers in the United States are women.

Nine million women receive all of their earnings from minimum wage jobs. In Pennsylvania, full-time minimum wage means a woman brings home less than $15,000 a year.

In 2010, the poverty rate among women in the United States climbed to 14.5 percent, the highest in 17 years. The poverty rate for single female-headed households is higher than any other demographic group.

Poverty is a women's issue. Unemployment is a women's issue.

The economic insecurity and slow recovery of recent years has impacted women disproportionately nationwide. In Pennsylvania, the trend is similar: The poverty rate for single mothers is 37 percent, a staggering 23 percent higher than the rate for all households. According to a study of job growth in Pennsylvania, only men saw net job gains in 2011, while women saw net job losses for each month of that year. By the beginning of 2012 women had only regained 12 percent of their total job losses compared with men who had regained 62 percent of their recession job losses.

Career Wardrobe has always assisted the most disadvantaged women, but in recent years our services have expanded to meet the needs of all women, many of whom never imagined they would find themselves out of work. While supporting an increased number of women receiving government assistance, we have adjusted our programs to support the woman who finds herself unexpectedly out of a job or has had her career derailed. That woman could be your sister, mother, or friend. That woman could be you.

Our Suits Tell Stories

The elements of a suit are seemingly basic: fabric, buttons, and thread, all intertwined -- cut and folded and looped and sewn and tailored to perfection. But slip the suit jacket onto the shoulders of a woman starting over again and the suit becomes more. That suit tells a woman's story of hope, determination, and opportunity.

Since 1995, Career Wardrobe has seen how a suit is the great equalizer, wiping clean the image of a women's status or background so that her work experience and qualifications stand out. But women don't just need to make great first impressions; they need to gain the skills and knowledge to advance their careers and climb up ladders of opportunity in their fields. The educational services provided by Career Wardrobe are a vital piece in the complete package of job-readiness support that women need to successfully get and keep a job.

A Continuum of Support

The mission of Career Wardrobe is to empower women in transition by providing programs that inspire the confidence necessary to achieve self-sufficiency and pursue a productive career. Each year more than 3,000 women take advantage of our innovative and dynamic programming, which includes:

• Dressing and Image Consultation Program: Providing free professional clothing and image enhancement services.
• Gateway to Success Job Readiness Education Program: Offering ongoing education and networking classes that address job skills to improve job performance and advancement potential.
• Wardrobe Careers Internships: A supervised internship to develop communication, customer service and problem solving skills that are critical for long-term employment success.
• The Wardrobe Boutique: A social enterprise resale store serving as an earned-income project and internship program location teaching women job skills in a real-world environment.

Our programs are developed on the only metrics that matter: outcomes measures. Once our clients are working, they are on the right path: they are rising out of poverty and into jobs that will lead to self-sufficiency.

• 90 percent see an increase in self-confidence, professionalism and job preparedness.
• 47 percent are successfully employed.
• 87 percent of those with jobs are earning over minimum wage and 49 percent working full-time.
• 57 percent are not receiving any type of cash assistance representing a cumulative savings to the taxpayer upwards of $19 million per year.

Portraits of Progress

Over the course of the next several weeks, we will introduce you to women who have used their new skills and economic independence to improve their lives, provide for their families, and have a positive impact in their community. These women represent some of the 75,000 women who have come through our doors in the past 17 years.

Their stories of personal achievement, perseverance, and opportunity show how the simple act of donating a suit, assisting a woman with her resume, or teaching her networking and professional development skills has a lasting impact on that woman's life and our community.

If Career Wardrobe wins The JobRaising Challenge, we pledge to replicate our successful model which combines social enterprise and social change by expanding our service delivery into a new community.

Visit http://www.crowdrise.com/careerwardrobe-jr to help us get there.

In fact, we want to engage you in our expansion! Send us your suggestions on what town or community needs their own Career Wardrobe via Twitter (@careerwardrobe). Use #storyofasuit to tell your own story of the importance of a professional suit, looking the part and getting the job.

Join and help us tell the #storyofasuit and raise women into the jobs they need to improve our communities!