Monday, September 8, 2008

The Business of Catch 22's

Joseph Conrad popularized the idea of the no-win situation in his book Catch 22 in the 1960’s. Over the last 9 years at Belay Enterprises, I have joked that our faith venture businesses of Bud’s Warehouse, Baby Bud’s and Freedom Cleaning Services have been in the business of Catch 22’s.

Indeed, the most obvious Catch-22 provides one of the top reasons for the creation of our employee training businesses. Felony offenders in community corrections programs are required to find a job or else they face a possible return to jail. Unfortunately, securing a job with a felony conviction is like finding your car in the Denver International Airport outdoor parking lot after a major blizzard. Many employers won’t even consider hiring someone with a prior felony conviction. Bud’s Warehouse exists as a transitional employer that will hire felons and then graduate them to jobs in the community. We have found that companies are more likely to hire a felon after being successfully employed in our program for a year.

Another frustrating Catch-22 is the issue of child support and driver’s licenses. At Belay, we have had the pleasure of seeing both sides of the issue. In the Denver Metro area, many employers will not hire an individual without a driver’s license. It’s one of the very first questions we deal with in our program: what needs to be done to get your driver’s license? Often, the answer relates to getting caught up with past due child support. So in order to catch up on child support you need a job, but few will hire without a driver’s license. More than once, we’ve had employees arrested for driving to work or running family errands without a license compounding their problems.

And we’ve been on the other side of the issue. At Baby Bud’s, almost every single mom in the program has significant amounts of child support owed to her family. It’s money that prevents her from successfully supporting her family and escaping poverty. The catch-22 multiplies to include a third dimension. To its credit, government is starting to recognize this problem. In certain cases, the state is allowing work-restricted driver’s licenses to help individuals catch up on owed child support. But this is an area where government, business and non-profits need to think creatively to help motivated individuals rebuild lives to society's benefit.

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