First of three parts.
Again — no, still — we are faced with the conundrum: Charlottesville-Albemarle is a prosperous place to live, but that prosperity remains out of reach for many people.
No matter how many jobs are filled and how much wages rise locally, living prices — especially housing costs — surge faster and further, leaving low-income working families continually chasing the American dream and unable to catch it.
That news was delivered to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently by Ridge Schuyler, founder of the Orange Dot anti-poverty project and now the director of self-sufficiency programs at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Again — no, still — Orange Dot and PVCC are chipping away at barriers that keep willing-to-work residents away from potential jobs.
Mr. Schuyler reported that a full-time minimum wage worker in Charlottesville will not earn enough even to pay rent. Housing costs have shot up by 42 percent in the past seven years, he said. Wages have not kept pace.
In addition to housing, residents also have to pay other living costs: food, clothing, utilities, child care, transportation and more.
“…[T]his means you could have been working your butt off … and the people who thought they were getting closer to that middle-class life just had the goalposts moved on them,” Mr. Schuyler said.
PVCC’s Network2Work has been helping workers and would-be workers solve the individual practical problems that might hamper them. The program identifies and trains community volunteers to help their neighbors connect with available resources. Those resources might provide anything from assisting with a job application, to paying for a car inspection to ensure necessary transportation, to making sure a worker has the right shoes for a day on her feet at work. These and other nitty-gritty solutions may be exactly what residents need to start climbing the ladder of success.
Last year, Network2Work began leveraging its assets through a partnership with TechDynamism, a local software developer. The company created an app that helps volunteers find resources more easily. The app even flags problems that a potential employee might face, allowing the job seeker and his mentor to deal with those issues pro-actively.
Can something so simple make a profound difference?
Apparently so. Mr. Schuyler told The Daily Progress that 85 percent more job seekers joined and completed the program after the app was deployed. And a high percentage of them succeeded in their job quest: About 80 percent graduated from the program, and 60 percent of those were earning $25,000 or more per year, he said.
That success rate will go a long, long way toward helping residents find and keep good-paying jobs — an absolute must if they are going to be able to live in Charlottesville-Albemarle.
Affordable housing, however, remains a component of the problem that requires its own solution. Charlottesville City Council is right to be placing so much emphasis on the issue; Albemarle County also has stepped up its efforts to address the problem in recent years.
Friday: Housing and the cost of living.