From Welfare to becoming the Working Poor - What do you think about the article?

H. C. Covington at I CAN America (icanamerica@email.msn.com)
Sat, 5 Jun 1999 15:54:49 -0500


The WebClipper Digest is HandsNet's weekly overview of cross-cutting human
services news posted throughout the World Wide Web. Sign up for a FREE trial
WebClipper account at HandsNet's public Web site,
http://www.handsnet.org.
----------------------------------------------


The Working Poor

Sittin' Here Thinkin'
by Ira Cutler

June 7, 1999


Around the country there is a great deal of discussion about *welfare reform*
and its impact. Foundations are spending tens of millions of dollars on studies,
and the production of conferences, books and papers on the impact of welfare
reform is now a substantial industry. The debate is often heated, with some
suggesting that the new program is an overwhelming success and citing reduced
caseloads, increased levels of employment, and reduced taxpayer costs. Anecdotal
evidence and personal testimonials abound. In popular magazines you can hardly
avoid the recurrent stories of minority women talking about the opportunities
afforded by welfare reform and how their lives have changed for the better.

Others are more skeptical and suggest that large numbers of families have left
public assistance without a dependable means of support; that the wages that
many former welfare recipients are making are insufficient to support a family;
that they jobs available are menial and dead-end; that job training and
educational opportunities are limited and geared towards finding any job at all,
as fast as possible; that child care is either unavailable, unaffordable, or of
poor quality. Critics suggest that welfare reform has reduced the welfare
caseload, but has not reduced poverty.

Recently the New Britain Foundation for Public Giving, an innovative Connecticut
community foundation, hosted a meeting to discuss what is happening in their
community as a result of welfare reform. The group, composed of professionals
and community leaders from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions, was
brought together to discuss welfare reform to date, with an eye towards how it
has changed things for families and what community agencies are having to do as
a result.

Sometimes the most obvious things are the toughest to see. In a couple of hours,
and without spending millions, the New Britain group hit on a fundamental truth
that I have not seen discussed in the emerging literature: namely that welfare
reform has dramatically reduced the numbers of welfare recipients in our
communities and just as dramatically increased the numbers of working poor
families. It is as though, in a social policy version of the Invasion of the
Body Snatchers, millions of families went to sleep one night as welfare
recipients and woke the next morning as the working poor.

This dramatic demographic shift is for all practical purposes permanent. Barring
some catastrophic occurrence like the Great Depression, we will not again see
any significant expansion of public welfare in our lifetimes. Where once the
system tried mightily to reach out to poor families, today the whole system, not
just in a few socially backward states but everywhere, is set up to keep the
number of people receiving public assistance benefits at the lowest possible
level.

Instead, we have a bulging working class population, made up of the large and
growing population of former welfare recipients who have only recently achieved
working poor status, and the families who have been there all along. And,
ironically, the working poor are a population that most observers would agree
has always been served poorly, if at all, by the social service system.
Ineligible for many forms of assistance, disdainful of those who sought and
received help, the working poor have long lived in the gap between the haves and
the have-nots.

The New Britain discussion group represented a wide range of views on what was
happening and on what should be done about it, but there was a very strong
agreement that, for many families, the barriers to becoming a successful
*working family* are considerable.

The old picture is of an intact nuclear family with a single hardworking (male)
breadwinner, poor but proud, stubbornly fighting to bring up a family. *We were
poor, but we didn't know it,* is the nostalgic story often heard about working
poor families in a gentler time. Today, even two breadwinner families are
struggling and the used-to-be AFDC and TANF families, frequently headed by
single mothers, face a daunting array of challenges. Indeed, the word *stressed*
was used again and again in New Britain to describe these families.

As a result, the service delivery system is now presented with a growing new
population, one with new needs - transportation, child care, health care, wage
supplementation, training beyond the first job, affordable housing, are all
mentioned. And the new services will have to be delivered in new ways. The
working poor are available to be served at different hours and days of the week,
and the hours of service agencies, now typically 9 to 5 on weekdays, will simply
have to change. Agencies will require new knowledge and skills, after all these
years knowing about public assistance has gone the way of typewriter repair, and
agency staff will have to be re-trained. And perhaps, most importantly, those
accustomed to serving captive welfare clients will need to undergo considerable
attitude adjustment if they are to successfully serve a now voluntary clientele.

In short, publicly and privately supported social agencies will need to be
re-tooled. For starters, we should all stop thinking about the used-to-be
AFDC/TANF recipients as *former welfare recipients.* Instead, we should all
start thinking of them in the more positive terms previously reserved for the
much romanticized blue collar lunch-bucket heart of America: proud,
hard-working, not to be talked down to but rather to be treated with respect.
These folks have now lost the cash benefit of being on welfare, the least we can
do is lift the stigma, too.

Things are out of whack right now, as they often are following big change. We
still have a gigantic social service apparatus in place to serve a welfare
clientele that is rapidly disappearing, while we do not have, and may very well
need, a new paradigm and new tools to address the problems and challenges of
working families.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ira Cutler, HN4072@handsnet.org, says he's seeking a semi-legitimate outlet for
thoughts and ideas too irreverent, too iconoclastic, or just too nasty for
polite, serious, self-important company. More recently Ira has become involved
in communicating in another way, through speeches which he calls Standin' Here
Talking
-------------------------------------------------------------
Source: The WebClipper Digest compiled by:
Sue Dormanen, HandsNet Editor
sdormanen@handsnet.org

Mail Sent: June 4, 1999         10:28 pm PDT   Item: R01PSAV


     -------------------------------------
H. C. Covington @  I CAN! America
The Rural Resource Center
P.O. Drawer 3444, Lafayette, LA 70502
icanamerica@msn.com
Voice 1-318-781-0216

     -------------------------------------
H. C. Covington @  I CAN! America
The Rural Resource Center
P.O. Drawer 3444, Lafayette, LA 70502
icanamerica@msn.com
Voice 1-318-781-0216