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Iowa Responds To Influx Of Refugees With Job Training And Support Services

A bridge in Des Moines, Iowa, where a new program is trying to connect refugees coming into the city with jobs.

CREDIT: Flickr user Jason Mrachina.

AmeriCorps and Iowa refugee groups partnered back in September to create RefugeeRISE, an organization dedicated to leveraging resources to better train refugees and help build the workforce in Iowa.

The group’s acronym name stands for rebuild, integrate, serve and empower. And that’s what the group is attempting to do with the refugees coming to the United States looking for jobs.

While many believe that refugees that come to the United States are ultimately a drain on the economy, the reality is that the large majority (75 percent) of refugees find work within six months and that those who have accesses to services like RefugeeRISE are much more likely to become self-sufficient even faster.

The job program pairs one native English speaker with a refugee to help provide services, education, training and self-sufficiency counseling.

“This is a huge population who are willing to work hard, raise families, build homes and set down roots in Iowa,” Amy Doyle, supervisor for RefugeeRISE in Des Moines, told the Des Moines Register. “Why would we not want to give them the assistance they need?”

The program started back in September in Des Moines, Waterloo and Marshalltown, Iowa after the Reader’s Watchdog ran a five-part series on the struggles that the state’s growing Burmese population faces. The series described 7,000 Burmese refugees who had resettled in Iowa and started working for the meatpacking and food processing industries, among other fields. They faced increased challenges when the funding and services for refugees were slashed last year.

A bill pending at the Iowa legislature this year would provide $350,000 in state money and an additional $650,000 in federal matching money in order keep the job program going. A sponsor of the bill, Senator Janet Petersen said that the Iowa Senate already approved funding but that the House had yet to act on it.

“I’m hopeful,” Petersen told the Register. “Refugees have been coming in force to the Statehouse this year and letters have been pouring in. But all the [state agency] budgets are going to be tight.”

According to a report by UNHCR, the large majority of Syrian refugees (50.3 percent) in the United States, United Nations and other Western nations are female and an even higher majority (51.2 percent) are children under the age of 17. Nearly 40 percent of the population are under the age of 11. Women and children under the age of 17 make up 76.6 percent of Syrian refugees, despite a common misconception that the majority of Syrian refugees are men of fighting age.

Alexandra Kilpatrick is a reporter with Generation Progress.

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