Have you ever seen someone holding a cardboard sign at an intersection and thought to yourself, “there are ‘Now Hiring’ signs in every store window – why aren’t you working?” I thought that until I came to work as an employment specialist at Catholic Charities and tried to get those very same people into the booming labor market. – Deanna Ricke

According to a May 13th, 2024 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Missouri has 82,000 open jobs, and for every 100 open jobs, there are only 53 available workers. Kansas has 167,000 open jobs and only 51 available workers for every 100 open jobs. It seems counter intuitive, then that every day, men and women are desperately trying to find a job and are unable to do so. It is not because they are not qualified for the work that is available. Industries most in need of workers include food service, leisure and hospitality, landscaping, cleaners and waste disposal workers; it’s not because these available workers are unwilling to do these jobs. There are 5 main reasons willing workers in Kansas City are unable to land a job:

1. Insufficient Documentation

  • You cannot work without an original birth certificate (copies don’t count) and a valid government-issued ID. Many, many people do not have these documents, and obtaining them can be problematic. And expensive. In most states, to obtain a birth certificate, you must present a valid government-issued ID. But guess what you need to get a government-issued ID? A birth certificate. It is the definition of a Catch-22.
  • In order to get an ID, you also need proof of residency and address – a utility bill, for instance. But many of our clients do not have this. They are couch surfing or living in shelters, abandoned buildings, or on the streets.
  • Catholic Charities helps clients navigate this complicated process and Catholic Charities pays the necessary fees.

2. Enormous Technological Hurdles

  • 99% of clients do not own a computer and have virtually no computer experience; unfortunately, 99% of employers no longer offer any way to apply except online.
  • While clients can apply on their cell phone…
    – As hard as it is to believe, not everyone has a cell phone. Missouri releases roughly 282,000 people from its prisons and jails each year, and many of those who come to us have no phone and no money to buy a phone. Some have not used a cell phone in years and have zero ability to use one.
    – Applying for a job on a cell phone is difficult and time consuming. It requires creating multiple accounts and passwords, dual authentication, filling out complicated online forms, and uploading digital copies of resumes, cover letters, IDs etc. I do this work every day, and even I struggle to do all of this on a cell phone.
    – Many low-income folks have inexpensive phones and plans with limited data, making it impossible for them to upload all of the required documents.
    – The average cost of monthly internet service is $75.00, and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provided a $30 monthly subsidy for internet service, ended June 1st. This program was used by ~ 1 in 5 households, and a recent effort to extend the funding failed in Congress.
  • Libraries (and their free WiFi) can and do help, but librarians cannot possibly provide the amount of individual support and time that is needed.
  • Catholic Charities helps clients create electronic resumes, apply for jobs, and teaches clients how to use job search sites and prepare for interviews.

3. Getting to work in Kansas City is difficult- and often impossible – if you don’t own a car.

  • More than 10% of Kansas City households do not own a car and public transportation options- while improving – remain limited and unreliable.
  • There are no buses to some of our largest employers, including the Ford Claycomo plant, the new Meta Data Center, and the Panasonic Battery plant.
  •  Kansas City’s unions are in desperate need of workers – but one requirement is that workers must have a car, because they are often expected to travel to different job sites during the day.
    – Catholic Charities educates people on cheap transportation alternatives like RideKC Flex, and the new ride share service, IRIS, that is similar to Uber, but partially funded by the city, allowing Kansas Citians to move about the city for a fraction of the cost of Uber.

4. Many employers refuse to consider those with a felony record.

  • As mentioned earlier, Missouri releases roughly 282,000 people from its prisons and jails each year; although some employers will consider those with a record, most will not. Their justice-involved history creates additional barriers:
    – Of all offenders, sex offenders have the most difficulty securing employment. It can be surprising what is included in the sex offense category: one client’s offense had been urinating in a public park. At the time of the conviction, this was considered a sex offense. The client is working to have this expunged, but until then the person will probably remain unemployed.
    – Many clients have served time for some type of nonviolent drug-related offense and will not be considered by most employers, despite the fact that many employers will require these applicants to pass drug screens before and during employment.

5. To quote Matthew 9:35 “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.”

  • The efforts described in this article to assist individuals in returning to work are time-consuming. Catholic Charities’ Employment Services — which only includes one front line staff person — served 350 households last year. Far more men and women need this type of support and service to lift our city’s unemployed over the digital divide and into the wonderful world of work.

By Deanna Ricke, Employment Specialist at Catholic Charities of Kansas City–St. Joseph

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