Report: Californians moving from welfare to work still in poverty

Tom Boland (
Mon, 12 Apr 1999 05:05:02 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Associated Press - April 6, 1999


     Kim Curtis, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Californians who move off the welfare rolls into jobs
remain mired in poverty because of a lack of basic skills, a new report

The study, released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California,
found that many people who receive assistance cannot read a bus schedule or
fill out an employment application.

``Our results suggest that we ought to be very concerned about those who
are unable to make the transition from welfare to work, even in boom
times,'' demographer Hans Johnson said.

He noted the results from the six-year-old survey may be skewed because
California was experiencing a recession in 1992, welfare caseloads were
higher than today and those most likely to get off public assistance were
the most skilled.

Even so, researchers found almost one in four American adults have very low
basic skills. This means they are generally unable to fill out a job
application, use a bus schedule, total a bank deposit or understand a
newspaper editorial.

Californians have slightly lower average scores than the rest of the
country. And welfare recipients have even lower basic skills, Johnson and
Sonya Tafoya said.

Almost 80 percent of welfare recipients in the state have either low or
very low basic skills, compared to 34 percent of full-time workers, the
study said.

Even with allowances made for differences in age, gender, language spoken
at home and physical and mental disabilities, the researchers found a
skills gap between welfare recipients and other adults.

``They're skills are so low that for a large proportion, success in the
work place is going to be very difficult,'' Johnson said.

When people who receive assistance do find jobs they are often low-paying
or part-time jobs. Welfare-to-work employees earned an average annual
income of $12,400, while those with very low basic skills in California
earned less than $10,000 per year; 70 percent did not earn enough to lift a
family of three out of poverty, which for a family of three in 1992 was
less than $12,800.

At a rally Tuesday on the first year anniversary of San Francisco welfare
implementation, several women told stories saying welfare still needed

Cynthia Timmons said she was forced to return to public assistance after
barely making ends meet with her $1,050 a month part-time job.

``It paid rent, food, that's it,'' she said. She quit in February when she
couldn't find affordable day care for her 8-year-old daughter.

A lack of year-round, full-time employment is partly to blame for the low
annual earnings, the study said. Welfare workers also work primarily in
service sector jobs and tend to occupy the lower-level jobs within the
industry, the study said.

Charla Molina, also at the rally, said she worked at Macy's for 23 years
until they downsized and cut her hours from 40 to 20 a week. The part-time
job didn't cover her $1,000 a month rent. She and her disabled child have
since moved into public housing and onto assistance.

Nonetheless, California -- home to 23 percent of the nation's welfare
recipients -- has seen its welfare rolls decline 22 percent between January
1997 to September 1998. However, it's been less effective than 46 other
states at getting people off the rolls since federal reforms began in 1996.

But advocates like Martina Gillis of the Coalition for Ethical Welfare
Reform in San Francisco worry about where those people are going.

Reforms may be called successful only if the goal was to get people off
welfare, she said. If the goal is to move people out of poverty and into
self-sufficiency, it's not working.

The system is ``set up to keep people in low-paying jobs,'' she said.


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