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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, talks of record unemployment for the general U.S. population filled newspaper headlines and nightly newscasts. Alarm bells sound and talks of economic recovery continue, but not for everyone.
Almost two years before the pandemic, the Prison Policy Initiative found that the rate of unemployment for people who recently left jail or prison (also known as “returning citizens”) was 27%—more than 4 times the rate of the general U.S. population during a global pandemic and more than the unemployment rate of the U.S. population during the Great Depression. Returning citizens want jobs, but structural barriers including highly prevalent stigma keep them unemployed and underemployed, especially Black and Latinx populations who are often working in low-wage, entry level positions.
For the past three years, AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC)’s Safe and Sound Return Partnership (SSRP) has worked on eliminating some of these barriers for more than 100 returning citizens living with HIV and AIDS by providing key resources normally out of reach. These resources not only help citizens adjust to their former lives, but also helps keep the re-entry population retained in care, allowing them to achieve and maintain undetectable viral loads that support their health and prevent the transmission of HIV.
“The goal of SSRP is to be a one-stop shop for returning citizens, offering case management, housing and employment support upon re-entry,” said L’Oreal Bailey, AFC’s senior manager of special projects.
Thanks to a new partnership with RiseKit, a community-based platform powering economic mobility programs, SSRP will be able to provide even more employment support to recently released individuals.
RiseKit ensures every job seeker from underserved communities has the tools to manage their employment journey, can get connected with relevant jobs, training and resources to overcome employment barriers, and receive timely guidance from nonprofit staff. Similar to Indeed or ZipRecruiter, anyone can sign up using a phone number or email on any device with an Internet connection.
Unlike other job platforms, RiseKit focuses on serving often overlooked, underserved and marginalized talent. Because of its expansive and growing network of nonprofits and employers across Chicago, RiseKit can put jobs in front of returning citizens that hire recently released people and local talent.
“RiseKit has been building its mission towards elevating the lives of others by sharing jobs and opportunities for over three years,” said Dominique Wilson, RiseKit co-founder and success manager. “AFC and RiseKit share the core value of improving the lives of our community members.”
In addition to specific, local job listings, there’s several other features that make the platform well-suited for returning citizens. RiseKit offers a downloadable resume that enables individuals to fill in a template rather than starting from scratch. RiseKit also provides information on relevant job trainings for returning citizens who may have been out of the workforce for a longer time than others.
Because RiseKit is a web-based platform, corrections navigators at Cook County Health—who work with SSRP to support returning citizens—can go into the platform, recommend specific jobs to individuals, and follow them through the entire hiring process, all while maintaining social distancing. This support ensures that people do not fall through the cracks of lengthy hiring processes.
“Thanks to RiseKit, I can see if a client has not completed a step in the employment process,” said Carla Davis, Corrections Navigator at Cook County Health. “I can then encourage the client to complete that step in order to move along in the hiring process and gain employment.”
Because the partnership is new, a few returning citizens have only created profiles, viewed relevant resources and become accustomed with the platform. Over time, SSRP expects more returning citizens will point to RiseKit as a tool and supportive network that enables them to find a job, despite the structural barriers working against them.
“As we work alongside AFC, its extended partners from the Safe & Sound Return Partnership and others to create a one-stop shop for jobs and resources, we will be able to support more job seekers and connect them to the resources they have been searching for,” Dominique said.
To learn more about the SSRP RiseKit partnership, click here. To learn more about AFC’s corrections work during the COVID-19 pandemic, read our coverage here. To learn more about RiseKit or seek information on partnering with the growing job platform, click here.