Gene Epstein: Saving America One Job at a Time and Busting the Recession

Gene EpsteinA lot of people talk about the recession, but very few people ever do anything about it. Meet Gene Epstein, a 71-year-old retired Philadelphia philanthropist who is earmarking a quarter of a million dollars to donate $1,000 to charity for each unemployed person hired, and he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's how his Hire Just One program works: The first 250 businesses that sign on to employ just one additional person from the unemployed ranks for a minimum of six months will have a $1,000 donation made to one of many important charities. These national charities fund job retraining programs, wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, homeless shelters, and more. "In the end, you win, charities win, and most of all, the nation wins," Epstein says.

He's spoken very persuasively about his program to Katie Couric, Dianne Sawyer, Huffington Post and AOL. "The United States has 5,700,000 small businesses with multiple employees," he says enthusiastically. "If just 10 percent of those businesses were to hire just one employee, the nation's unemployment numbers would drop significantly, consumer confidence would go up, and consumers would then start to make purchases again. Our entire economy would begin to turn around."

It's not about the money

"Forget about the money, hiring new employees right now just makes good business sense," Epstein explains, noting that about 20 percent of American small businesses are in trouble right now, but about 80 percent are eking out a profit, and they'll make more money by hiring than by trimming. Here's why:

1. When someone new is hired, the other employees stop worrying about their own jobs and become more productive. Happier employees with less stress are able to achieve more.

2. The newly employed person is now making more and able to spend more. Not only are they spending more, but they're contributing to the government by paying taxes, rather than receiving money from the government in the form of unemployment. This contributes to a longer lasting economic recovery, rather than a quick, bandage-type fix.

3. The existing employees will feel more confident, and also start spending more. They'll still be more cautious and responsible with their money, but instead of socking so much of it away, they'll be inclined to put a little more of it back into the economy. The more money in circulation, the better it is for businesses across the board.

You'd have to be crazy

Epstein is quick to acknowledge that his $1,000 charitable donation incentive alone is not a great reason to hire someone new. "Look, a business owner would have to be crazy to hire someone just because of the $1,000 donation," he explains. "I did this just to get their attention. I figure that if they see some guy putting up all this money, they might pay attention to what he has to say. I say that the economy will improve if everyone who can hires just one, and I explain why. It just makes good business sense."

Epstein knows from good business sense. When he was only 11, his father died and he and his mother worked together to open a candy store. Then in 1955, at the age of 15, Epstein convinced his mother to give him the $50 she was going to use for the house payment. He bought a used Studebaker with it, advertised it, and turned around and sold it for $150. That was the beginning of his thriving automobile and commercial real estate business.

"I didn't make a fortune, I just made a comfortable living," says Epstein. "When people ask me, 'then how can you donate a quarter of a million dollars?' I tell them, "I'm just trying to do my part to get our country out of this economic slowdown, and put it back on track as the world's most robust economy."

Showing true American spirit

It seems to be working. CBS News highlighted Epstein's program on their weekly "American Spirit" feature, and talked to Phil Chant, a machine manufacturing company owner in New Britain, Pa., which hired not just one, but five new employees as a result of Epstein's efforts. One of the people hired was Leo Deoliveira, a 43-year-old father of four who had been unemployed for five years and lost his house.

Epstein recently received the following message from a Pennsylvania business owner:

"Hello, I read about your philanthropic effort in the Doylestown Intelligencer. We just hired a man with five young children who had been unemployed for over five months... We weren't actively looking to hire someone, but we knew about this good man and we, too, wanted to make a difference. We are a small, under 20 employees, family owned, original equipment manufacturer outside of Philadelphia." Epstein says he gets e-mails like that almost every day.

AOL Jobs Asks
Gene Epstein
5 Quick Questions

1. What was your first job? At age 11, I had my own bicycle repair business and two paper routes.

2. What inspires you? Trying to make things right for people.

3. What is the most important trait needed to succeed? Total dedication and confidence.

4. What is your biggest challenge? Trying to get people who ask me for my advice to take it and follow through.

5. What is the best career advice you ever received? If you're trying to sell a good product and it isn't moving, never lower the price; in fact, raise it. That way you'll have people trying to get you to sell it to them for your original asking price.

But what happens when the initial $250,000 runs out? Over 200 companies have already signed up for the program, and with all Epstein's appearances on national news programs, the original 250,000 is going quickly. But he's also getting cooperation from a lot of other businesses who want to stimulate the economy by offering similar incentives. "I tell them, look, you're going to donate the money to charity anyway, why not help create jobs with it as well?"

"I know this will work," concludes Epstein. "I want to help American workers get their jobs and pride back, and I know this will do it. I've lived through several recessions, and I've leaned a thing or two. If business owners will just listen to the guy that put up the $250,000, they'll see it makes sense to hire. We have to help ourselves, instead of waiting for someone else to come along and bail us out."

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