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Social Enterprise Assists in Filling Post-Pandemic Workforce Gaps

With its world-renowned beaches, sprawling hills and canyons, and of course, Disneyland, Orange County is home to a wealth of hotels, restaurants, and cutting-edge hospitals that belie its small size and make it one of Southern California’s most robust workforce regions.

Over the past decade, however, local affordable housing inventory has seen a steady decline, while rents have been on the incline, leading to OC’s young and essential workforce being priced out and edged out. Adding to these pre-pandemic challenges, the impact of COVID-19 has been a crisis within a crisis for our neighbors who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, and/or are justice impacted. Without the workforce engine that powers the OC economy, the health and future of our community is at risk.

According to the Orange County Business Council’s 2020-2021 Community Indicators Report, “Orange County’s unemployment rate rose from 2.9 percent in January 2020 to 12.3 percent in July 2020, an improvement from 13.8 percent in April 2020. As one might imagine, the pandemic transformed job hiring in the county. July 2020 saw only 80,877 unique job postings compared to 140,585 in July 2019, a decline of 42 percent, or just under 60,000 jobs.” Finding sustainable employment is already an uphill battle for our most vulnerable neighbors. With Orange County seeing an expected average unemployment rate of 8% through the beginning of 2021, many OC individuals and families face the threat of homelessness.
Industries such as retail, food service, and hospitality account for 51% of the COVID-related mass layoffs in California. Orange County’s largest employer, Disneyland, shuttered for over a year, laying off or furloughing thousands. It is still unknown if retail, food service, and hospitality jobs will return to where they were pre-pandemic. Among unsheltered adults experiencing homelessness for the first time, 59% cite economic hardship as the cause. Job loss or insecurity because of the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to evictions or other housing loss, further accelerating the increase in homelessness. Strategies to prevent homelessness are central now and will continue to be so over the next several years as we recover from the devastation of COVID-19.

So, what can we do? Though there is no easy answer or quick fix, Orange County is a resilient community that cares about all of its residents.  With community support and an array of innovative programs and resources available to help us weather this storm, we will bounce back and continue to grow and thrive.
Chrysalis is one of our community resources. Since November 2018, the Chrysalis center in Orange County has helped nearly 400 people secure full-time, sustainable jobs. In addition, nearly  30 employer partners, including Disneyland Resort, Honda Center, Thermal-Vac Technology, and Roger’s Gardens have hired Chrysalis clients.

Along with its core employment program, however, Chrysalis has been a trend-setter in the field of employment social enterprise with Chrysalis Enterprises (CE). For those with significant barriers to employment, CE offers paid, transitional employment with in-house businesses – including a staffing agency, a street maintenance company, and Roads, a program in partnership with Caltrans.

and the Butte County Office of Education, which employs people with justice system involvement to do litter abatement and freeway maintenance – to get them started on the road to permanent, outside employment. Transitional jobs deliver marketable experience and occupational skills while providing a closely supervised, supportive working environment that allows clients to demonstrate and practice their hard and soft skills.

CE workers participate in the program for three to twelve months, while simultaneously continuing their job search. Since opening their doors in Orange County, CE clients have worked 44,531 hours and earned a wage of between $15.00 and $16.00 per hour.  This social enterprise model works to ensure a successful transition to outside employment and is designed to see people through tough times, usher them into their next phases, and prevent or break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

The economic recovery from this pandemic will not be simple. But Chrysalis’ 37 years of experience proves that an investment in employment social enterprises can help even the most vulnerable people find jobs and get on a path to self-sufficiency. Embracing this model will help Orange County focus on the infrastructure of our communities, preventing a further escalation of the homelessness crisis, and maintaining a community where everyone has the opportunity to work and thrive.

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