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Daily Work Steps to Success Luncheon - Welcome and Opening Comments by Emcee Chris Farrell

Thank you. I’m honored to be here today. And welcome. It’s wonderful that some 250 people are here today to support Daily Work.

The catchphrase of this moment is inequality. If you doubt that, just reflect on the remarkable fact that the most celebrated and controversial publication last year was a 600-plus page economics book by a once-obscure French economist, a dense book full of charts and graphs.

Yes, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.

I don’t think there is any question that as a nation we must focus more on addressing long-term unemployment, especially for job seekers with few skills and limited employment history.

Millions of Americans are struggling to get by these days. Many were born in poverty, growing up in neighborhoods that offered few clear ways for escaping from a life of struggle. Others came to America to create a new life for themselves and their children, but for some the barriers to finding a good job with a decent wage loom large.

Sometimes, we take a fall and its long way back up. Poverty and unemployment and underemployment in America is deeply disturbing on moral grounds. Poverty and unemployment and underemployment are worrisome on economic grounds, too. They rob the country of its productive potential. Increasing economic opportunity for low-income workers so that they and their children can climb up the social and economic ladder is both the right thing to do and the economically smart thing to do.

We all know the past several years have been tough on households. The key to reviving dynamism and prosperity in America is increasing the incomes and job prospects in low-wage to no-wage communities, which is where Daily Work and its job-connecting mission comes in.

To not only improve the job skills of those mired in poverty and hard times, but to qualify them for jobs that offer a living wage, a paycheck big enough to support a family, and jobs with realistic prospects for advancement and ambition.

Here’s one way to think about the core issue. It came home to me during a powerful moment in Chicago about seven years ago. A colleague and I were working on an hour-long public radio documentary about the push in the Windy City to transform public housing projects into mixed income communities. It’s an anti-poverty, neighborhood development initiative.

At one point early in our reporting we met with a group of women from the Henry Horner project. The women had successfully fought for the Chicago Housing Authority to give them a voice in the remodeling and rethinking of their complex—a radical idea at the time.

During our conversation, Crystal Palmer, a former public housing resident and current public housing employee, turned to us and said, “How do we connect the disconnected? That's the key to success in this community and any other community is connecting the disconnected.”

She’s right. That’s what work does--connect the disconnected in the Twin Cities and in Minnesota. For work is more than an income.

The factory, the office, the cubicle, the retail store and other workplaces are also communities with colleagues, cubicle mates, union brothers and sisters, and fellow employees. Birthdays are celebrated, divorces mourned, coffee shared. Conversation is the lifeblood of work.

A job ties adults to mainstream society. A job provides the income to support a family. A job is the best anti-poverty program we have. And fewer people in poverty translates into a richer society, both in economic resources and in moral worth.

Put it this way: Nearly 180 years before Piketty’s book was published in the United States, another astute Frenchman wrote smartly about America--Alexis de Tocqueville. The opening sentence to his magisterial Democracy in America reads: "No novelty in the United States struck me more vividly during my stay than the equality of conditions."

That’s the promise that lies at the heart of the efforts we’re here to celebrate and support today. We need to do more. We need to intensify our efforts. We need to ruthlessly pursue what works and discard what doesn’t.

The stakes are high for those looking for work to climb out of poverty and for society looking to be more inclusive and engaged. This isn’t an abstract discussion. This afternoon you will hear some amazing and inspiring stories of job seekers.

So before we break for lunch, how many of you have been here before? Well, I’m sure those of you who were here remember Jaye? She spoke at the first Steps to Success Luncheon.

Jaye gave a very moving testimonial about the challenges she faced when she lost her job of 17 years after a lay-off. I’m thrilled to tell you that two years later Jaye is a full-time employee with a job she loves at a place that values her as a worker.

Jaye and her supervisor, Debbie, recently talked to Daily Work about Jaye’s job and its impact on her life and the people around her. Without further delay, let's go to the video.

Chris Farrell_webChris Farrell is senior economics contributor at Marketplace, American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and economic programs. He is economics commentator for Minnesota Public Radio. An award winning journalist, Chris is a columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek, Next Avenue and the Star Tribune. He has written for a number of other media outlets. The author of four books, his latest isUnretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life.


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