Low Skills Hamper Welfare Reform, CA State Study Says FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 11 Apr 1999 15:35:39 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - April 7, 1999


     California among worst in nation in ability levels

Welfare reform, which is supposed to push recipients into
paying jobs and off the public dole, may never succeed in California
because so many people on statewide public assistance lack even basic
work skills, a new study warns.

Four out of every 10 adults on welfare in California have ``very
low'' skills, meaning that many in this group have trouble doing
rudimentary tasks like adding numbers in a checkbook, according to a
study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California, a
San Francisco think tank.

``The prospects for those people are not good,'' Hans Johnson, a
demographer who worked on the study, said yesterday. ``The types of
jobs they get are not going to be sufficient to lift them out of

By comparison, about two out of 10 welfare recipients in other
states have ``very low skills,'' which ``suggests that California is
going to have a more difficult time moving people off welfare than
other states,'' Johnson said.

The report says an additional 35 percent of California's adult
welfare recipients have ``low skills,'' meaning more than three out
of four statewide welfare recipients have job skills that may be
inadequate for employment.

Johnson said the study's results are ``appalling.''

People with low skills have more trouble than others interpreting
instructions, understanding newspaper articles, reading bus schedules
and locating intersections on a street map, the report says.

According to 1997 figures, California has the largest number of
welfare recipients in the nation: 2.2 million, or about 23 percent of
the U.S. total. About 663,000 of the state's welfare recipients are
adults, and 1.56 million are children.

Using data from a landmark 1992 study called ``The National Adult
Literary Survey,'' Johnson and another researcher found that 60
percent of California's adult welfare recipients have graduated from
high school ``yet are unable to perform very basic tasks,'' Johnson

``Graduating from high school doesn't mean you have adequate
skills to succeed in the workforce,'' Johnson said.

``I don't want to be a prophet of doom and say that no one (on
welfare in California) will succeed,'' said Johnson. ``Nor is welfare
reform a bad thing. . . . It's better for people to be working than not
working, because they're more likely to acquire skills.''

Under welfare restrictions adopted by the state in 1997, new
recipients can only receive aid for 18 continuous months, although
counties can extend assistance for an additional six months. Under
federal restrictions, there is a five-year cumulative lifetime limit
on aid.

The new regulations are designed to get people off welfare and
into paying jobs, but critics say the effect may be to move people
off welfare and deeper into poverty.

The report, which makes no policy suggestions, was greeted with
caution in the Bay Area, where people on welfare are especially
vulnerable to rising costs of housing.

Jeanne Brooks, executive assistant with the San Francisco Department
of Human Services, said that education and job skills are important,
but that there are many factors that determine whether a welfare
recipient can settle into a good-paying job.

``In the Bay Area, where housing costs are so high, maintaining
housing stability for a person becomes a real issue,'' Brooks said.

San Francisco's welfare program works with City College of San
Francisco and other schools to offer welfare recipients classes and
instruction. The college is working on a program to provide care to
welfare recipients who attend classes, Brooks said.


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