Last week in the Wall Street Journal there was an important article by Joe Rago concerning Senator Ron Johnson’s involvement with relieving poverty, crime and hopelessness in the predominately black north Milwaukee zip code of 53206. Tragically, 62 percent of males in this area have served time in jail by the time they reach 30 years of age, unemployment among working-age men is 64 percent, and since 2000 real household incomes have dropped 17 percent. Last year Orlando Owens, a community advocate, and Pastor Jerome Smith formed a partnership they named the “Joseph Project.” Their purpose was to transport residents in need of work to Wisconsin industries where, paradoxically, there are tens of thousands of unfilled jobs waiting. Almost from inception, Senator Ron Johnson became an active partner. He utilizes not only the powerful influence of his office but years of entrepreneurial experience to broker relationships between the community and industry.
The partnership provides training to potential workers on the soft but critical skills of interviewing, developing a work ethic, managing time and money, and conflict resolution. Neighborhood church vans average 12,000 miles a month transporting workers to their jobs. Of the 130 people who have completed the program since it began in fall of 2015, 77 are now employed with another 28 offers pending. The success realized by the Joseph Project in less than one year of operation stands in stark contrast to over 50 years and billions of dollars spent by federal and state governments with nothing to show for it in any of our inner cities.
Senator Johnson doesn’t boast of his involvement with the Joseph Project, and a predominantly liberal press gives it little attention, presumably because it doesn’t fit the caricatured narrative of unfeeling Republicans. The difference between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson is that the former continues to believe that government is the solution, while Senator Johnson believes in the power of private enterprise and self-initiative that leads to pride and self-reliance.