President Obama's State of the Union detailed the hardships of a hard economy and said that, "... for those who'd already known poverty, life has become that much harder." His package of prescriptions included incentives for small businesses to hire more workers, and for investors to provide them with capital. So far so good.
However, in Tampa the next day, the President failed to highlight the small business solution when he responded to a woman asking about job opportunities for her brother who had just left prison, referring instead to a small federal program that assists parolees when they return home. It's a fine program but too small to meet the need given the limits on domestic spending the President also proposed. He added that "if we can find a program that works, that breaks the cycle, it is a good investment for our country."
He won't have to search too hard to find what works. It's a special kind of small business referred to as a "social enterprise", run by nonprofits that earn income by delivering needed goods or services like landscaping or recycling, while also creating jobs for young people and adults on the bottom of most hiring lists due to histories of incarceration, homelessness, mental illness or substance abuse.
Studies show that people who get jobs in social enterprise are less likely to return to prison and jail or remain homeless. Taxpayer costs go down and the self-respect and income that comes with having a job go up.
In California, some groups do similar work. Think Conservation Corps, or Community Housing Partnership or St. Vincent DePaul of Alameda. With skyrocketing prison budgets contributing to California's overwhelming deficits, and little money in the public till for grants to nonprofits, now is the right time to replicate these proven models that achieve results and generate revenue to cover costs. Here's a small business sector that could benefit from the incentives that others get, while offering just what the President called for -- a great return on investment for our country that works and breaks the cycle.