Ways to Work Program: A Nobel Prize?

Ways to Work Program: A Nobel Prize?

The national Ways to Work program has improved the employment and education opportunities of low-income households across the United States. The model is similar to that used Mohammed Unus, who recently won the Nobel Prize for his small loan program in Bengladesh.


Economist Mohammed Yunus recently won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking project that makes small loans available to the low-income residents of Bengladesh. In making the award, the Nobel Committee noted the importance of finding ways for people to break out of poverty. Unus’ Grameen Bank has developed an impressive record of assisting poor households to enter the mainstream of economic life in Bangladesh.

The applicability of the Unus model is not limited to low-income nations. The national Ways to Work program has been working for more than 20 years to bring low-income households across the United States into the economic mainstream. A principal strategy has been to provide loans, like Unus, to low-income households. Ways to Work helps households buy cars.

Why cars? Simply because in modern urban areas, whether in the United States, Western Europe or the low-income world, cars expand exponentially the geographical area in which people can search for employment. Research at the University of California, the Brookings Institution and the Progressive Policy Institute demonstrates that cars are crucial to obtaining better employment. The problem is, of course, that despite the romantic affection for transit, it is simply unable to provide mobility to much more than the downtown area, and that’s not where most of the jobs are.

A recent evaluation report looked at a representative sample of Ways to Work borrowers, and found the following:

    Working families who have received Ways to Work loans have, on average, increased their incomes more than 40 percent in the first year.

    More than 80 percent of the borrowers who were previously on cash grant public assistance programs saw their incomes rise so much that they were able to leave the public assistance programs.

    Many of the borrowers indicated that having the car made it possible for them to complete education and training programs.

    Demonstrating how success breeds success, one-third of borrowers have since been able to obtain new loans through conventional sources.

    Finally, nearly all of the borrowers said that having a car increased the time they could spend with their families and improved their quality of life.

It may be time for the Nobel Committee to honor the model Ways to Work program.

(Originally published 20061130)