Casino wins with job program gamble
Washington, a mother of three, had received $120 a month on welfare in the historically impoverished Mississippi Delta. Now, as a maid in one of the casino's three hotels, she earns $300 dollars a week.
The bright pink bus that takes her and co-workers to the casino is helping change many lives in the region, where unemployment in some communities had been close to 30 percent.
"There's nothing to find," Washington said of work around Tunica County. "You can find a little of that, a little of that. But it's not paying nothing."
Together, the nine casinos in the county have created 15,000 jobs in the last five years. And still they need more workers.
"I think the smallest number of job openings that at any point in time we've ever had has been 100," says Bill Baker of the Grand Casino. "And we've had up to 500 at one point."
The employee shortage became so acute that a year and a half ago the casino "adopted" a couple of Delta towns. It helped finance a day care center, sports programs, and a job program designed to prepare residents, most of them on welfare, for casino jobs.
Four hundred residents have completed a weeklong training program, which emphasizes proper dress and grooming, promptness and effective communication. All of them have obtained jobs.
About 200 of them remain employed. The casino says the turnover rate is not bad, considering that most of the program's participants have not had steady jobs in years, if ever.
This part of the Mississippi Delta has benefited greatly from the program. The casino finds much-needed employees. The residents welcome the jobs. And the state lowers the welfare rolls.
"I've got me a living room set. I got me a stove," Washington says. "I'm paying on my house. Now you know the Lord blessed me."
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