To lift people out of poverty through employment.

Started in 2005 by social innovators Peter Cove and Dr. Lee Bowes of America Works, Work First was founded on the idea that employment is the most important first step towards lifting people out of poverty. Work First sponsors programs that connect under-served populations to job opportunities, conduct research on poverty alleviation, and runs a Fellowship Program for young professionals passionate about direct service and public policy. Work First also engages in advocacy efforts that promote economic self-reliance for needy individuals and produces research on ways to improve access for low-income individuals' entrance to the workforce. Today, we operate in New York, NY, Baltimore, MD, Memphis TN, Washington D.C, Milwaukee, WI, Los Angeles CA, and San Francisco, CA, conducting demonstration programs that connect disadvantaged job seekers to opportunities. 

The Work First Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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I believe there is a better way forward. I believe we can – we must – build a future that puts work first. My father used to have an expression. He’d say, “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about your self-respect. It’s about your place in your community.
— Former Vice President, Joe Biden

The Facts

23.4 Million

Out of work and on public assistance for more than three years.

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Individuals placed into the workforce by the Work First Foundation.



Of placed workers retained in our wage subsidy program.


Demonstration Programs

Work First conducts demonstration programs that help unemployed individuals gain and retain jobs. Notably, Work First operates three successful employment demonstration programs in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland.

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Work First seeks to identify approaches that successfully lead to meaningful employment for people on public assistance. As part of our mission, we collect data on effective employment programs around the United States so that government, job seekers, employers and private funders can make informed decisions on which programs to partner with.  

Work First Fellowship


The Work First Fellowship is a year of service that combines direct support to individuals living below the poverty level with research on the public policy that shapes the lives of the population they serve. The fellowship operates in New York, NY, Baltimore, MD, Memphis TN, Washington D.C, Milwaukee, WI, Los Angeles CA, and San Francisco, CA.

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Take Action


If you are interested in fighting poverty through employment, we offer several opportunities to get involved. You can join the Work First Fellowship Advisory Council or make a donation to help us connect individuals find and maintain employment.