Why The Late, Great Welfare Reform Isn't So Great.
Supporters of the recently passed federal welfare reform measure have been busy congratulating themselves. Not only do they claim they are saving taxpayers billions, they also say that the millions of Americans chronically dependent on public assistance will be set free from the poverty cycle. However, if the state-level welfare initiatives passed over the last few years in Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin are anything to judge by, federal welfare reform is grossly misguided. The benefit reductions, eligibility restrictions, time limits and family caps that all three states imposed have reduced neither poverty or government spending.Jobs have been hailed by social reformists as the cure-all capable of eliminating welfare dependence and reassuring the public that all Americans are earning an honest dollar and not living off the fat of the taxpayers' money. But according to LaDonna Pavetti, in her article "Who is Affected By Time Limits," both activists and reform measures continue to ignore one basic problem of welfare dependence: more than one-third of all welfare recipients are single, poorly-educated mothers with little or no work experience. In addition, a growing number of recipients do not even meet the minimum requirements needed to participate in an employment training program, let alone secure a full-time, decently paid job.The average homeless mother receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) checks typically has not completed high school, reads at the sixth grade level, has never worked and bears sole responsibility for her children, according to a report put out by the Institute for Children and Poverty (ICP). Of the four out of 10 who have worked, their jobs have been generally part-time and in the low-wage service sector. Job training programs traditionally have been used to combat this problem and help prepare welfare recipients ready for the work force. Unfortunately, few people placed in the programs posses even the fundamental skills as reading, writing and arithmetic, needed to participate and succeed. Even more discouraging is a report recently put out by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which revealed that AFDC recipients who participated in job training programs and then secured employment only earned 3 cents more per hour than those without any training at all. Job-readiness, combined with academic training obtained from vocational schools, community colleges or other institutions of higher education, is the key to equipping all welfare recipients with the skills and knowledge necessary for full-time employment in today's competitive work world, said ICP. Such programs already have been successful at homeless shelters and multi-service centers around the country. The bottom line, maintains ICP, is that we can end welfare as we know it, but unless the states, in their new role as leaders in welfare innovation, immediately forge strategic job-readiness and education policies, the newly "liberated" welfare recipients and their children will sink deeper into poverty and dependence.