During his 2014 State of the Union speech, President Obama targeted income inequality as a central issue for his remaining time in the White House. While income inequality is often described in economic terms, it's also a social matter, a reconciliation of what constitutes fairness in our increasingly "winner-take-all" economy.
As the President said during his speech, "Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others. . . That's what America is all about." If people no longer believe that each of us have equal access to the American Dream, our social contract loses some of its sheen.
In this regard, the President laid down an aggressive agenda, including raising the minimum wage and a continuation of unemployment benefits. However, while public policy is Washington's weapon of choice, it can be especially effective when paired with willing partners in the private sector.
During his speech, the President said, "I've been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs, a new chance to support their families."
George Bresler of GB Collects, based in West Berlin, N.J., is one example of a CEO responding to the President's call.
Bresler first heard about the Jobs4Jersey program in 2013 from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Serving New Jersey-based businesses, Jobs4Jersey provides short-term salary subsidies to employers if they hire someone from the unemployment or welfare rolls. When Bresler discovered Jobs4Jersey, he quickly saw an opportunity to help GB Collects achieve critical business goals while helping his fellow New Jerseyans.
The county office for the Jobs4Jersey program was located in the city of Camden, N.J., one of the highest-crime municipalities in the entire country.
As he pulled up to a dilapidated retail-shopping center that has been reborn as a suite of Camden County offices with "Probation and Welfare" on one side and the "Workforce Development" office on the other, he noticed the New Jersey State Trooper guarding the office "with an assault weapon at his side."
He proceeded with caution, his hunger to participate in the program helping him get over his concerns about his immediate surroundings.
The merits of the program, however, were substantial enough for Bresler to push past the inconvenience. In the past three months, GB Collects has hired people through NJ4Jobs. He's happy to report that the retention rate for the 11 people he hired through the program so far is 100 percent.
I hope the President can drive some attention to the issue of helping the long-term unemployed in a way that leads to real change. But I also know that to be successful in addressing income inequality. The U.S. will need more leaders like George Bresler.