East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Relevant Themes from
Lessons from Recent Studies
Local Issues and Feedback
General Recommendations for Resource
This chapter will address the ways in which employability can be improved,
and job training opportunities can be most effectively provided, for East
St. Louis residents. It will begin with a synopsis of the issues raised
in recent studies, and the recommendations these authors have made. A review
of the relevant economic and social factors affecting these issues in East
St. Louis, as well as the themes and suggestions generated in interviews,
will then be presented. All of these sources have been discussed in detail
in Chapters Two and Three. At the conclusion of the chapter,
general recommendations for policy directions and strategies with
regard to employability issues and job training resources in East St. Louis
will be outlined.
Relevant Themes from Recent Studies
Jim Florio, the former Governor of New Jersey, wrote eloquently about
the need for more active improvement of employment prospects in an article
published in 1996, entitled "Partnership Needed to Improve Workers'
Skills." He wrote:
"…only by reacting forcefully to previous problems did we move
ahead. When prospects for the American workforce seemed especially bleak
in the past, federal, state, and local governments took action. They followed
through with ambitious efforts and the necessary resources to educate and
train more people: the G.I. Bill for veterans returning from World War
II; increased investment in elementary and secondary schools (a near tripling
from 1952 to 1970, in inflation-adjusted dollars); publicly subsidized
grants and loans to expand college enrollment by more than 125 percent
between 1964 and 1980. Those investments yielded big dividends for Americans,
as individuals and as a nation. It is time to get equally serious about
giving American workers the skills they need for a changing economy."1
This quotation reflects the growing awareness and concern voiced about
these issues of late. Many scholars have recently undertaken studies on
the topics of employability and job training, and their findings and recommendations
are briefly outlined here.
In studies of employability, cited and described in more detail in Chapter
Two, the following concerns were identified as factors affecting the
job prospects of low-income and minority community residents, in general:
- Basic skills and verifiable credentials are lacking in
young low-income job seekers.
- Service sector employment, the job type most often available
to low-skilled urban residents, tends to be less stable and less well-paying
than other sectors.
- Deindustrialization and spatial relocation of employers
have seriously hindered job availability for urban residents (although
another study found that commuting is not a "major factor" in
- Discrimination, due to racial stereotypes and perceptions of
low-income areas, hinders the job applications of minority young people.
- Informal channels are the means through which most entry-level
and low-skill jobs in urban areas are obtained, rather than through a publicly
announced hiring process.
- Several factors that were found to have a positive effect on
the employability of young low-income persons are: having close family
members who are working, regular church attendance, having established
career aspirations, and having completed their education (at least through
- Several factors that were found to have a negative effect on
the employability of young low-income persons are: a family history
of welfare dependency, a family history of living in public housing, and
early involvement in criminal activity.
In research on job training, cited and described in more detail in Chapter
Three, the following issues were identified as factors affecting low-income
and minority community residents, in general:
- Legislative reform of job training programs is very likely due
to impending welfare reform. Funding will remain tight, and more creativity
and efficiency will be required. Current programs are often redundant and
specialized, and will most likely be consolidated and devolved to the states
as block grants.
- Incentives for the private sector to hire welfare recipients
are being discussed.
- Studies of current job training programs have shown mixed findings.
The general consensus is that many current programs focus on short-term
gains, at least in part because quantifying results and determining appropriate
success measures are very difficult.
A few recent publications have outlined specific barriers to
employability and to the effectiveness of training provision, that follow
from the general study findings mentioned above. They are summarized as
- Gordon Lafer, writing in 1992 about why job training programs have
been ineffective in New York, made the following sobering comments about
continuing racial division:
"A serious employment policy… must include two components. It must
strive to provide a quality public education and effective job-training
programs, but it must also recognize that educational initiatives can be
effective only within a narrow range of opportunities, and beyond this
it must seek to address the structural limits to employment that confine
the bulk of the city's poor to a future of limited options…. Segmentation
of the labor force along racist lines is functional in holding down labor
costs, as is the maintenance of a population of workers whose educational
and employment options leave them no choice but to accept low-wage jobs"2
- In a 1995 study of five state welfare reform demonstration projects,
the Urban Institute found that child care "plays an important
role in transforming the welfare system into a more work-oriented system….
[and] that some types of care- infant care, evening and weekend care, temporary
care needed for school-age children during school breaks and during the
summer- are harder to find than other types of care. Finding care is also
quite difficult for families living in areas with limited public transportation…"3
- In his paper, Hal Wolman referenced another study that found "the
'acceptability' of welfare is greater where there are large concentrations
of welfare recipients and relatively few role models of working adults,
and that a welfare recipient is less likely to move to work in these areas
than she would in other areas where poverty is not so concentrated."4
Lessons from Recent Studies
A quick look at the lessons learned in the Harry Holzer study cited
in Chapter Two, as well as some other sources, is warranted. The
following "policy implications" are distilled down from his study
on the job prospects of less-educated workers (emphasis added):
- Enhancing the job skills and credentials of minorities should
be prioritized, in response to both real job needs and perceptions.
- Easing the "school-to-work transition" for young African-Americans
is crucial, through improved placement services and linkages between schools
- Increase job sources in low-income areas through development
programs, or bring minorities to live and/or work in the suburbs,
where more jobs are available.
- Begin to better enforce Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) regulations.
- Increase the perceived returns to low-wage employment, such
as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, legislating better health insurance
benefits for low-wage workers, and increasing the federal minimum wage.
- Direct job creation, at least in the short-term, will be required
if adequate low-skilled jobs are to be made available to meet demand.5
In a 1996 paper Hal Wolman considered an idea similar to the final "policy
implication" mentioned above, surmising that because there "simply
are not enough low-skilled jobs out there…. Any strategy to move large
numbers of welfare recipients to employment will require some demand side
response such as wage subsidies to private employers or creation of community
service jobs…. In some areas even this strategy will have to be buttressed
by improvement in local support services."6
William Julius Wilson, in his 1996 book 'When Work Disappears: The World
of the New Urban Poor," mentions a study touting the idea of direct
public sector job creation, including jobs in "infrastructure maintenance."
He notes, however, that such construction-related jobs are unlikely to
go to the very low-skilled. Instead, government-subsidized minimum-wage
jobs such as public park playground assistants are mentioned in a second
cited study. Yet a third study mentioned advocates a large-scale Works
Progress Administration (WPA) model, similar to the job creation program
advanced in 1935 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.7
Two recent publications that deal comprehensively with issues of community
revitalization, and in so doing speak to the issues of employability and
job training, are also worth noting here. They reiterate many of the ideas
mentioned above, in the context of larger concerns about the overall viability
of low-income communities. Diane Suchman, in "Revitalizing Low-Income
Neighborhoods", published by the Urban Land Institute, includes the
following recommendations regarding economic development and job training
- Organize for economic development.
- Identify needs.
- Encourage financial assistance to small businesses.
- Involve corporate community leaders.
- Encourage development of business incubators.
- Create a business assistance center.
- Encourage an active business owners' association.
- Create job training centers.
- Train residents for employment that will result from the revitalization
effort and other economic development.
- Provide information and referral on training and employment
- Implement youth outreach programs.
- Ensure support services to enable residents to work.8
Robin Garr, in her 1995 book "Reinvesting in America", records
grassroots efforts that are dealing with issues of food, housing, education,
health, political power, job skills and work in struggling communities.
She then compiles a list of lessons learned, which are listed below (emphasis
- Establish partnerships between federal, state, and local governments
and nonprofit organizations, ensuring that every community has competent
programs delivering a complete range of services that foster individual
- Manage by objectives. Set smart goals and come up with simple,
direct approaches that will take you straight to them.
- Foster self-reliance by building on people's strengths.
- Use the holistic approach, bringing a full array of tools to
bear on each individual's problems.
- Deal with individuals, one-on-one. Poverty is not best fought
on an assembly line.
- Intervene early and anticipate problems before they occur.
- Leadership makes a difference: The best grassroots leaders are
charismatic, competent, flexible, unafraid to innovate, and unafraid to
break the rules (if not the law).
- Join forces, fill the gaps, coalesce. Work together to meet
the community's overall need.
- Involve the community in what you do. There's strength in support
as well as in dollars.
- Change is better than charity. "Teach a man to fish."9
In short, these varied writings seem to focus on similar basic ideas:
create jobs, enhance skills, improve accessibility and supports, build
local solutions based on strengths, and ensure that the public and private
sector work together.
Local Issues and Feedback
Local data was collected, and local feedback generated, on the conditions
and challenges facing East St. Louis in particular. Those findings, described
in detail in Chapters Two and Three, are briefly reiterated
In East St. Louis, several unique conditions have exacerbated the issue
of low employability. They are as follows:
- The labor force has diminished considerably over the last three
decades, causing job sources to leave or be reluctant to enter East St.
- The level of education attained is lower on average for
East St.. Louis residents than other for communities, further decreasing
the likelihood of new job sources entering the community.
- These factors have led to the following intractable conditions
in the community: a high rate of unemployment, a high rate of dependence
upon government transfer payments, and a higher than average level
of dependence upon public transportation.
The interviews and surveys conducted opened with a discussion of the
issue of employability, and generated the following feedback:
- There are very few jobs available locally; most job opportunities
are in the service sector, and are located in Missouri.
- There are transportation barriers to accessing many area
jobs, in contrast to general study findings, as public transportation across
the river can seem prohibitively expensive with a low-paying job.
- General "life skills" such as interpersonal communication,
workplace etiquette, resume writing and so on are lacking among many young
people from East St. Louis. This was blamed alternately on a lack of family
support, and a lack of career guidance and counseling at the high school
- More tangible basic skills, such as math and writing,
are also often below average among young East St. Louis residents. This
problem was blamed on the school system.
- Motivation and goal-setting are seen as lacking among
many East St. Louis young people, especially those who have dropped out
of the traditional education system. This situation was blamed on both
unstable families and the school guidance system, but also on a general
lack of visible role models in the community, caused by an ongoing "brain
- There appears to be a lack of non-standard support services,
such as evening day care, mentoring and tutoring. There were mixed opinions
about whether adequate general support services exist in East St. Louis.
- Stereotyping and discrimination are obstacles
that East St. Louis residents looking for low-skilled jobs in the surrounding
region still appear to face.
- There were a variety of responses when asked what job sectors
are most "promising" for low-skilled East St. Louis residents.
Interviewees seemed to have different responses based on whether their
focus was quickly providing work for welfare recipients, or creating long-term
career-oriented or entrepreneurial opportunities.
In brief, the current situation regarding local job training for East
St. Louis residents is as follows:
- The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) is the major training
funding source in East St. Louis currently, and programs are determined
at the regional level by the Private Industry Council. A variety of targeted
program are available regionally.
- Three promising changes and discussions regarding job training
are currently underway: the establishment of an Illinois Employment
and Training Center (ETC) in East St. Louis, the recent change in administration
at Metropolitan Community College, and the ongoing "Education-to-Careers"
initiative. In addition, the school district and the Department
of Public Aid are involved, respectively, in assessing their abilities
to provide non-college career tracking and in developing skills
assessments for case management use.
The interviews and surveys conducted progressed to asking about the
issue of job training, and generated the following feedback:
- Job training is crucial to any efforts to increase employability
of East St. Louis residents.
- Most training currently available focuses on low-paying jobs and
quick turnaround, rather than on career-oriented avenues.
- Most current training programs require some level of basic skills
before entering the program (such as 10th grade level math, for instance).
- Motivation to pursue training is low, because currently the
benefit to be gained from an investment of time and effort is not clear
to those who would benefit from training.
- Both front-end counseling and on-going support, to maintain
motivation, are lacking.
- Training programs should be better tied to regional job sector demand,
and be better linked to specific potential employers.
- There is a higher than average level of awareness of
available programs and services in East St. Louis, but the reality of impending
welfare reform has yet to "sink in" for many residents. Behavioral
patterns and interest in training programs have not yet significantly changed.
General Recommendations for Resource
Based both on the feedback gained in interviews, and the information
contained in the studies cited, the following general recommendations for
local and regional improvements in employability and training provision
To improve employability for East St. Louis residents, the following
- The city should aggressively pursue opportunities to bring new businesses
to East St. Louis, through spin-off development opportunities linked
to the Casino Queen, the current and future Metro-Link station, major regional
transportation routes that border East St. Louis, and others as they arise.
This will enable the "import substitution" needed to regenerate
the local economy.
- The city, in cooperation with other entities, should provide
strong support and incentives to East St. Louis residents who wish to
start their own businesses, whether home-based or not. The necessary
consulting and training to maximize success rates of new "home-grown"
businesses should be provided, further fueling the "import substitution"
- The city should create and/or enforce the necessary public
sector regulations and incentives to ensure that the positive effects
of economic development efforts accrue to East St. Louis residents as much
- Better basic preparation for job searches and the workplace environment
should be provided, either through the schools or through community-based
initiatives. Whether learned at school, at home, at church, or elsewhere,
young East St. Louis residents must be better encouraged, counseled, and
prepared to seek out and successfully gain employment, so that "excuses"
not to hire them can no longer be used by regional employers.
- More flexible and non-standard support services should be devised
or expanded, such as evening and weekend day care provision, a professional
clothing exchange system, and mentoring or group discussion sessions for
young people. These services must not only be created where insufficient,
but be made widely known and available.
To improve job training for East St. Louis residents, the following
- Training agencies should maintain a balance between training aimed
at short-term placement and training aimed at long-term career
path creation. Potential trainees should be made to understand the
difference, and different success measures may need to be applied to each.
Understanding the different goals of the two approaches will be crucial
to designing and monitoring the various programs.
- Basic skills training should be made more readily available
to those who need assistance with workplace acculturation and GED-related
tutoring in math, English and other subjects. Some potential trainees should
be provided this training prior to moving on to more targeted training.
For others, this basic training may be all that is needed.
- The need for increased self-motivation and an improved
self-concept among young East St. Louis residents should be addressed,
but this could be through more "informal" means. Altering the
type of counseling received at school, providing opportunities to meet
and talk to role models (especially from the community itself), and helping
parents to better understand what positive messages should be instilled
in their children will make great strides towards improving the ability
of young persons to formulate goals and succeed in the working world. The
need to invest time and energy in skills improvement should be made clear.
- For training program effectiveness to increase, it is important that
a mentoring component be included, as well as ensuring ways for
on-the-job experience to be gained during training. These elements
could be tied in with other efforts, such as summer youth employment programs.
The "real world" component of training is crucial to a young
person's understanding of its value.
- Community leadership and involvement in determining sectors
to target, programs to provide, evaluation design, and other aspects of
training efforts are also crucial to their longevity and success, and are
- A stronger, more complete vocational education program should
be established in East St. Louis, most likely at Metropolitan Community
College. It should be readily accessible to residents, have financial aid
available, and make correlation with regional demand and ties to specific
regional employers a priority.
- Private sector investment should be more effectively leveraged
with public funding in new and innovative ways. Scarce dollars can
be stretched further if the concerns of the private sector are discussed
and addressed, and appropriate incentives and subsidies designed.
The important subtext in all of these recommendations is the need to
involve more parties in designing solutions, committing time and funds
to improvements, and taking on responsibility for outcomes. Piecemeal efforts
will not have the same effect as coordinated efforts. As Percy Harris of
the Enterprise Community put it, East St. Louis residents need to "help
themselves" before outside businesses will begin to come back to town.
He is interested in pursuing the idea of encouraging home-based businesses,
and in involving private sector credit sources. Enterprise Community funds
can also be used for training costs, day care, and other such expenditures.
Working in cooperation with other concerned entities, these resources can
have a very positive effect in the community. No one organization or person
will be able to implement the necessary changes alone. As a result, this
chapter concludes with one overall recommendation, under which the others
- A coalition of concerned and empowered entities should be created
to fully inventory resources currently available, strategically plan an
effort to improve and expand upon current resources (based on the above
recommendations), and have shared accountability for coalition-generated
CHAPTER FIVE NOTES:
1. Florio, Jim. "Partnership Needed to Improve Workers' Skills".
CUPReport. Winter 1996. page 2.
2. Lafer, Gordon. "Minority Unemployment, Labor Market Segmentation,
and the Failure of Job-Training policy in New York". Urban Affairs
Quarterly. Vol. 28, No. 2, December 1992. pages 213 and 227.
3. Pavetti, LaDonna, Amy-Ellen Duke. "Increasing Participation
in Work and Work-Related Activities: Lessons from Five State Welfare Reform
Demonstration Projects". (http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/hsp/isp/15xs.htm)
4. Wolman, Hal. "Welfare to Work: The Need to Take Place Differences
into Account". Technical Analysis Paper No. 45. (http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/hsp/isp/tap45.htm)
5. Holzer, Harry J.. "What Employers Want: Job Prospects for Less-Educated
Workers". pages 129-133.
6. Wolman, Hal. "Welfare to Work: The Need to Take Place Differences
into Account". Technical Analysis Paper No. 45. (http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/hsp/isp/tap45.htm)
7. Wilson, William Julius. "When Work Disappears: The World of
the New Urban Poor". pages 226-230.
8. Suchman, Diane R.. "Revitalizing Low-Income Neighborhoods: Recommendations
from ULI Advisory Services Panels". The Urban Land Institute. pages
9. Garr, Robin. "Reinvesting in America: The Grassroots Movements
That Are Feeding the Hungry, Housing the Homeless, and Putting Americans
Back to Work". pages 231-238.
: Diane Gormery-Barnes
HTML by : Yong Wook Kim
Last modified: May 21, 1997
St. Louis Action Research Project