A Good Job Is a Gift That Keeps Giving

This article is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2022. Read more about the guide in a note from Opinion’s editor, Kathleen Kingsbury.

I have returned to jobs again and again in this newsletter in 2022. In an April newsletter I wrote,“Jobs are as plentiful as they’ve ever been, but who’s feeling wonderful about the condition of American workers?” So for this year’s Giving Guide, I’m recommending donations to two organizations that focus on helping people get not just any job but a good one — the kind with decent wages, benefits and working conditions, along with meaning, respect and a path to advancement.

Help launch a career. In early January I wrote about Fred Mutsinzi, who grew up in Rwanda, moved to the United States for college, then wound up homeless after his money ran out. His life changed in 2014 when he was selling merchandise out of a cart in Boston and met a student who was participating in Year Up, a tuition-free job-training program. He got into Year Up, which allowed him to break into a career in finance. (It helped that while working he completed an online bachelor’s degree in 2018.) In January, at age 27, he became an investment analyst for a venture capital firm in Boston specializing in early-stage investments in robotics and artificial intelligence. He told me this week he recently left that job and is seeking other opportunities.

Year Up places graduates of its training program in internships with major employers, from Accenture to Zynga, many of them in finance and tech. As I wrote in January, those internships frequently lead to job offers or college admissions. The program is for low- to moderate-income high school graduates who are 18 to 29 years old (up from 26 last winter). Year Up says that more than 80 percent of its graduates are working or enrolled in school within four months of graduation from the program and that the average starting salary of those who are working is $52,000 (up from $44,000 last winter).

Gerald Chertavian founded Year Up in 2000 after working as a Wall Street banker and then building and selling an internet marketing company. I asked him this week what the organization would do if it had more money. Take on more recruits, he said. The goal for 2023 is 5,000 graduates, up from around 4,300 this year, but that’s still not enough to meet the demand, he said.

Year Up is expensive to operate because “our students were born 50 yards behind the starting line,” Chertavian told me. “There’s a young man in our program who’s living out of a car. He has no winter clothes. He comes into our offices to study. These are the people we are trying to help.”

Make bad jobs into good ones. The Families and Workers Fund, a two-year-old nonprofit that I wrote about in April, focuses on the quality of jobs, not just the quantity of them. Its goal is to catalyze the creation of one million good jobs in the United States by 2026. This month it issued a report on how to define and measure what makes a job a good one.

The Families and Workers Fund is a consortium of more than 20 philanthropies, chaired by the heads of the Ford Foundation and Schmidt Futures, that was formed in the early stage of the Covid pandemic to get cash into the hands of people who lost jobs but were ineligible for or unable to get government benefits such as unemployment insurance. It has since pivoted to helping make jobs better. It’s a bridge to smaller charities operating on the front lines.

One interesting grantee of the Families and Workers Fund is the Better Builder Program in Texas, an initiative of the Workers Defense Project that aims to make construction work in Texas safer. In 2019, 123 people died in construction accidents in Texas private industry — an average of one every three days. Consulting the workers themselves, Better Builder devised a set of standards for making construction jobs better and safer. In a big victory for workers, those standards have been adopted for a $7 billion transportation construction project in metro Austin.

Rachel Korberg, the executive director of Families and Workers, also pointed me to a grantee in Philadelphia called PowerCorps PHL, which trains young people for jobs in clean energy and infrastructure. That’s good for the environment and for beneficiaries: Young people in PowerCorps PHL who have been entangled in the justice system “average a significantly lower post-program recidivism rate compared to Philadelphia’s citywide average,” Families and Workers reports.

If you’re reading this and you happen not to be a billionaire, you may be wondering why you should give to Year Up or the Families and Workers Fund when they already have lots of well-endowed backers. A similar question occurred to me in the early 1970s when I had a paper route that paid $8.50 a week — a small sum even in those days — and used to donate to the Rockefeller Foundation. (Really!)

My answer then was that my charitable dollars would accomplish more if I routed them through the giving experts at the Rockefeller Foundation than if I used some less-effective channel. That still makes sense to me. In choosing where to give, the only thing that should matter is whether a charity is doing good and necessary work that you believe in. If so, every additional dollar helps, whether from a billionaire or a thousandaire.

Of course that’s not the only way to go. If you know of an obscure nonprofit that does excellent work but is starved for funds, give to it. What you don’t want to do is nothing. We’re all in this together.

This article is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2022. The author has no direct connection to the organizations mentioned. If you are interested in any organization mentioned in Times Opinion’s Giving Guide 2022, please go directly to the organization’s website. Neither the authors nor The Times will be able to address queries about the groups or facilitate donations.

Elsewhere: Fragility in the Payments System

Until 2008, banks kept minimal sums in their accounts at the Federal Reserve, which meant they couldn’t depend on that money to cover the cost of payments they needed to make. They had to rely instead on incoming payments. This system created the risk of gridlock — if incoming payments were interrupted for any reason, outgoing payments would be affected, and the Fedwire Funds Service, which handles over $4 trillion in interbank payments daily, could fail.

The risk of gridlock should have gone away after 2008, when the Federal Reserve started buying bonds from the banks. The Fed’s quantitative easing left them with trillions of dollars in their Fed reserve accounts, which seems like plenty to cover their outgoing payments — no need to rely on incoming funds. For some reason, though, risk clearly remains. The payment system has come under stress twice in the last several years: in September 2019 and in March 2020.

A paper published this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds that the problem seems to be that banks want or need far more reserves than they did before 2008. Why that’s so is beyond the scope of the paper, although the authors point to regulatory changes after the 2007-9 financial crisis that make reserves more useful or necessary to the banks. In any case, the banks don’t like to draw down reserves to make payments, so they wait, as in the past, for incoming payments.

Banks’ strong demand for reserves is worrisome, because their reserves are falling now that quantitative easing has turned to tightening. “The shrinking supply of reserve balances may come to have potentially important implications for market functioning and financial stability,” the New York Fed study concludes.

Quote of the Day

“Once we establish what people really value — money, altruism, relationships, praise, what have you — then we can more accurately figure out the triggers or mechanisms needed to induce them to get better grades at school, stay out of trouble with the law, perform better on the job, give more to charity, discriminate less against others, and so on.”

— Uri Gneezy and John List, “The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life” (2013)

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