01/21/2013 09:32 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2013

Opening Doors to the American Dream

The belief that work is the key to a better life is a central part of the American dream. Americans believe that through work we better ourselves, sharpen our skills, provide for our families, and prepare for a better future. In light of these beliefs, it makes sense that anyone who wants to work should be able to work. Nobody should be denied the opportunity to earn income and contribute to society through employment.

The national statistics on unemployment are dramatic and sobering. Nearly 23 million Americans are unemployed and underemployed -- contributing to a national poverty rate of nearly 8 percent. What's more, the long-term unemployed account for 40 percent of the unemployed. In November 2012, the alternative unemployment rate measure -- which includes people who want to work but are discouraged from looking and people working part time because they can't find full-time jobs was 14.4 percent.

Many of the long-term unemployed are chronically unemployed -- facing additional barriers that prevent them from successfully getting and keeping a job, such as lack of prior work history or experience, low literacy or educational attainment, a criminal record or recent incarceration, long-term reliance on public benefits, homelessness or housing insecurity, and lack of reliable transportation or childcare. Far too many of these American job seekers facing barriers to employment are denied the opportunity to work. They experience significantly higher unemployment rates and more frequent and severe bouts of unemployment than the national average.

The struggle with chronic joblessness leads to high rates of poverty and hardship faced by millions of Americans. Over 48.5 million people in the United States live in poverty. On average, 60 percent of 20-year-olds in America will experience poverty at some point during their adult years. One third of the overall population of the United States will experience extreme poverty in their lifetimes, with incomes below half of the poverty line.

The number of people with barriers to employment and those who are chronically unemployed and unable to secure work represents a tremendous loss of productivity, economic growth, and human potential. Transitional jobs programs work to help chronically unemployed people facing barriers to employment get the experience, skills and opportunity they need to enter the workforce. By doing so, they help people move toward the American Dream of a better life through work.

Over the next six weeks, we will be asking transitional jobs programs, employers, and leaders in the antipoverty and workforce development fields three questions:

• How do Transitional Jobs change lives?

• How do Transitional Jobs help businesses?

• How do Transitional Jobs strengthen America?

Watch this space for their answers. We expect an exciting discussion on the ways in which transitional jobs programs can benefit individuals, families, communities, businesses, the economy, and the country by opening doors to employment for people who want to work.

With your help we can ensure that every person who wants to work has access to a transitional job in their community. Your contribution to the National Transitional Jobs Network gives us the resources to fight for, protect, and advance transitional jobs in order to get #AmericaBack2Work.

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