Effective Job Reinsertion: Supporting the Long-term Unemployed

A Case from the North: San Francisco, United States

Municipalities can help reduce one of the root causes of poverty and social exclusion by actively supporting citizens who are suffering from long-term unemployment and who find it increasingly difficult to reinsert themselves in the labour market. There is much to learn from the experience of San Francisco (California, USA) that has designed an effective package of measures that combine training, lifting daily life obstacles to training and job search, subsidising work experience, and passing legislation to bring the private sector on board.

A six-pronged approach to job reinsertion:

Long-term unemployed individuals are disadvantaged in their search for jobs. Having been out of touch with the world of labour, their skills may have become outdated or forgotten, their behaviour may be too far away from the business culture, and potential employers may beware of people who have been for too long without a work experience. Furthermore, despite the difficulties of “making ends meet”, unemployed people who have been living for a long time on government welfare assistance may find the shift to work life too difficult or scary – all the more so if taking steps to look for a job adds seemingly insurmountable problems such as child care or transportation. The measures taken by the municipality take these obstacles into account.

The programme set in place offers a variety of activities and services according to the needs and interests of individual participants. Every participant must commit a total of 32 hours per week during up to two consecutive years. The central aim is that of gradually leading the unemployed from reliance on cash assistance to competitive unsubsidised employment.

Training activities

Training programmes are established on the basis of the specific needs and interests of each participant. The aim is to provide participants with a specific marketable skill that will facilitate labour market reinsertion. For many participants, however, the lack of basic literacy and numerical skills represents one of the greatest obstacles for finding employment. Participants with low educational background and poor language skills, therefore receive Adult Basic Education during the first months, followed by gradually by training in a specific craft. The skills offered by the programme range from manual activities such as carpentry and construction work to medical training for nurse assistants and general office/clerical training for secretaries. In some cases, training is conducted in the form of on-the-job training through which the participant combines training with work experience

For the provision of training courses the City of San Francisco has linked up with community-based organisations and non-profit advocacy groups. Organisations are paid on the basis of performance-based contracts, meaning that they receive the money when participants have reached a given level of success. This provides a further incentive for community organisations to provide training that will be rewarded with real opportunities in the labour market.

Work Experience

Work experience and subsidised employment are ways of enhancing existing job skills by obtaining practical experience in the participant’s field of specialisation. Private and public sector enterprises as well as community-based organisations provide the work experience. The programme provides the funds, either by continuing to give cash assistance or, if the job is partly paid by the employer, by complementing the salary. Government funding for unpaid work continues up to a maximum of 12 months, at which point the participant is expected to engage in a thorough job search. Work experience is an important stage of transition towards unsubsidised employment. For the long-term unemployed it is of great importance to be able to show employers that they have experience as well as the capacity to commit themselves to work.

Counselling and social services

One of the most important discoveries of the programme was that obstacles to finding a job are more complex than simply the lack of appropriate job skills. Drug abuse, alcoholism and domestic violence are some of the most common problems that impeded the participants reinsertion into the labour market. The programme thus concentrated much of its efforts on providing free counselling to participants through their Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence Services. Counselling services are free of charge and are offered 24 hours a day.

Other services

For single mothers (who constitute the vast majority of participants) there are a number of work-related expenses that provide a further obstacle to employment. In order to help participants during the training period and job search, the following services were offered:

  • Free child care: provided for children under the age of 12. The participant is free to choose what kind of child care he/she prefers ranging from child care centres to relatives and friends.
  • Transportation: paid travel to and from training activities, work experiences and child care centres.
  • Work or training related costs: covered books, tools, special clothing and other items that might be needed as part of the activities.
  • Allowance: access to an individual account with a $400 allowance to pay for expenses related to getting a job.

Interaction with the private sector

In order to bring the private sector on board to cooperate in the programme, a local ordinance compels all businesses involved in economic transactions with the city council to interview long-term unemployed individuals who are listed in the city rosters and other low-income residents before hiring from the general population. This is an important step because long-term unemployed individuals are often discarded and discriminated against by employers without even being interviewed.

  1. Job retention services: The assistance to participants continues even after they find jobs. The intention is to provide support and advice during the first two years of the participants’ new professional life so that they can move more successfully toward more challenging employment and higher wages. Free counselling services and child-care are also available to participants for 2 years after they stop receiving cash aid.

The participants:

The families recruited for the programme are those who were previously benefiting from cash assistance. The criteria for identifying participants are the following:

  1. Single-parent households (most often lacking the male parent)
  2. Severe lack of income

Six thousand families in San Francisco were identified as eligible for the training scheme in accordance to these two criteria. For eligible families, participation was compulsory in order to end cash assistance and begin a process of active re-insertion into the labour market.

Budget and funding:

Funding stems from three sources: the federal government, the state and the city. For San Francisco, implementing the programme has implied an increase in short-term expenditure on social welfare. The programme’s goal, however, is that of making participants become self-sufficient in the long-term and therefore aims at reducing future expenditure.


During the first 18 months, over 5000 Employment Plans were signed and approximately 50 community organisations were involved. The programme is relatively new and it is still early to have conclusive results. However, there are some indicators that the programme is having an important effect and is leading down the right path. Roughly 30% of the people who were previously receiving cash assistance are now working independently. Further, the programme has brought to light the fact that a large number of participants have serious problems of drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence or mental health. The programme has given them the possibility to enter free counselling as well as prospects for future employment.

The measures introduced by San Francisco are a comprehensive attempt to facilitate labour market reinsertion for the long-term unemployed, encouraging them to actively participate in society and raise themselves from dependence on cash assistance. The programme has recognised the different obstacles encountered by the unemployed and has provided a multi-faceted service to promote social integration.

We thank Ms. Janet Diamond from the Department of Human Services of the city of San Francisco for providing us with information on this project.

For more information, please contact:

Ms. Janet Diamond,
City of San Francisco, Department of Human Services
170 Otis Street
San Francisco, CA 94013, USA
phone: +1 415 557 5073, fax: +1 415 557 5478