Off welfare, luckiest join benefit-less working poor FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 24 Nov 1998 02:25:03 -0400


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=46WD  Boston Globe  11/22/98  page E03
POLICY

OFF THE WELFARE ROLLS TO WHERE?
THE LUCKIEST JOIN THE UNCARED-FOR,
BENEFIT-LESS WORKING POOR

By Randy Albelda
Professor of Economics
University of Massachusetts at Boston


The start of a new era in welfare regulation is imminent. On Dec. 1, the
first wave of recipients will hit their 24-month time limit. They and their
families will no longer be eligible for cash assistance unless granted a
special six-month extension.

Time limits are just one of the many new ''get tough'' welfare provisions
in Massachusetts. Others include stiff work requirements and reduced
benefits for those who did not report the whereabouts of their children's
fathers, received aid while becoming pregnant, or whose children skipped
school too many times.

Governor Paul Cellucci, and his predecessor William F. Weld, along with the
Department of Transitional Assistance, all have argued that welfare is
working. The sole piece of non-anecdotal evidence is that the caseload has
plummeted. But that is something we would have expected anyway in a booming
economy.

To date, the governor's office has not produced any reliable data on the
success or failure of these new tough policies, or how families are faring
under them. Are families replacing public assistance with earnings? Are
children going hungry? Who is taking care of children when women work? How
are families coping with their new mandate to be self-sufficient or be cut
off?

A special legislative commission established last year to study the impact
of welfare reform has met several times and hired a researcher to review
administrative data such as employment records. But, on the eve of the next
wave of ''get tough'' changes, we've had no published reports from this
panel.

Welfare reform is one of the largest social experiments ever conducted in
the state. At the time it was enacted in 1995, it affected about 300,000 of
our most vulnerable residents, two-thirds of whom are children.

As we mark the second anniversary of federal welfare reform - and usher in
Massachusetts' fourth year of implementing its own changes - it seems that
we should know more about how the people receiving welfare, and those no
longer on the rolls, are doing.

Instead, we have to look to what other states are finding to get a glimpse
of what is happening. A forthcoming report from the Center for Budget and
Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research and policy institute, makes
that task easier. It summarizes the findings from evaluations of earnings
and employment outcomes for welfare recipients performed in 13 states.

The studies differ in many ways, including who was followed (former and
current recipients); the time periods of employment that were evaluated
(from one quarter to one year); and how researchers got their information
(surveys or looking at unemployment insurance quarterly records).

                       Still, the results are remarkably similar: The
typical former welfare recipient is employed, working a substantial number
of hours, making poverty wages in a job that has no paid vacation, sick
leave, or employer-sponsored health care.

Studies of former welfare recipients in Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina,
Ohio, and Wisconsin found that between one-half and two-thirds of parents
were employed soon after leaving the welfare rolls, regardless of why they
left.

In Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington state, researchers
found that the majority of current and former recipients work a substantial
numbers of hours a week when they are employed - usually 30 hours or more.

So far, so good. But before celebrating, stop to consider what the studies
found about how much people are earning.

In Pensacola, Fla., three-quarters of former and current recipients earned
less than $7 an hour. The average wage was $6.55 an hour in Minnesota,
$7.34 an hour in Portland, Ore., and $6.44 in South Carolina. That's hardly
enough to support a single person, let alone a family.

In the studies that looked at total earnings received over several months
(rather than hourly wages when employed), researchers found that the
majority had earnings well below poverty level. In Milwaukee, 75 percent of
former recipients had earnings below the  poverty line. In Maryland, the
average earnings amounted to $9,500 a year.

Researchers in Los Angeles, Delaware, Pensacola, Minnesota, and Oregon
found that current recipients, most in state work-demonstration programs,
had earnings that are two-thirds the official poverty line.

These earnings levels should come as no surprise when you look at the kinds
of jobs former recipients find. More that one-third of former recipients in
Maryland were working in wholesale or retail trade. Almost half of those in
South Carolina were in service occupations, mostly in food preparation or
lodging establishments. Close to one-third of the employed former
recipients in Milwaukee found jobs in temporary employment agencies.

And what about ''family-friendly'' policies at such workplaces? In the four
states where researchers looked at whether employers offered health
insurance in the jobs held by working former or current recipients, they
found that between 40 and 60 percent did not. The two studies that asked
about vacation and sick leave found that about one-third of employers
offered sick days and less than half had paid vacation time. There was no
provision for mothers who had to miss work because their children were
sick.

Even with this set of studies, there is still much we don't know. Paid work
can build self-esteem, but it also conflicts with providing care to
families. What is happening to the children of mothers in the workplace?
Who watches the children when their mothers are working between 30 and 40
hours a week?

The work many recipients are finding is clearly not what most of us would
consider good, or even stable, work. Are the workplaces safe, are bosses
abusive or exploitative, knowing their women employees have few choices?

And perhaps the scariest questions of all: What is happening to the
''missing'' recipients - those who have left the rolls but do not turn up
in surveys or on unemployment insurance records? How are they surviving?

Massachusetts, like the other states studied, has pursued a ''work first''
strategy with a vengeance. For those who do find and keep paid employment,
welfare reform is translating into a ''working poor creation'' policy. For
those who can't find paid employment or can't do paid work, it is worse
than that.

Massachusetts, indeed the nation, has succeeded in implementing welfare
reform but not in addressing the problem of poverty, especially among women
and children. To call this a ''success'' is to stretch beyond recognition
the meaning of the word.

[Randy Albelda is a professor of economics at the University of
Massachusetts at Boston.]
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=46WD  Boston Globe  11/22/98  page E03

<paraindent><param>right,left</param>POLICY


OFF THE WELFARE ROLLS TO WHERE?

THE LUCKIEST JOIN THE UNCARED-FOR,

BENEFIT-LESS WORKING POOR


By Randy Albelda

Professor of Economics

University of Massachusetts at Boston

</paraindent>


The start of a new era in welfare regulation is imminent. On Dec. 1,
the first wave of recipients will hit their 24-month time limit. They
and their families will no longer be eligible for cash assistance
unless granted a special six-month extension.=20


Time limits are just one of the many new ''get tough'' welfare
provisions in Massachusetts. Others include stiff work requirements and
reduced benefits for those who did not report the whereabouts of their
children's fathers, received aid while becoming pregnant, or whose
children skipped school too many times.=20


Governor Paul Cellucci, and his predecessor William F. Weld, along with
the Department of Transitional Assistance, all have argued that welfare
is working. The sole piece of non-anecdotal evidence is that the
caseload has plummeted. But that is something we would have expected
anyway in a booming economy.=20


To date, the governor's office has not produced any reliable data on
the success or failure of these new tough policies, or how families are
faring under them. Are families replacing public assistance with
earnings? Are children going hungry? Who is taking care of children
when women work? How are families coping with their new mandate to be
self-sufficient or be cut off?=20


A special legislative commission established last year to study the
impact of welfare reform has met several times and hired a researcher
to review administrative data such as employment records. But, on the
eve of the next wave of ''get tough'' changes, we've had no published
reports from this panel.=20


Welfare reform is one of the largest social experiments ever conducted
in the state. At the time it was enacted in 1995, it affected about
300,000 of our most vulnerable residents, two-thirds of whom are
children.=20


As we mark the second anniversary of federal welfare reform - and usher
in Massachusetts' fourth year of implementing its own changes - it
seems that we should know more about how the people receiving welfare,
and those no longer on the rolls, are doing.=20


Instead, we have to look to what other states are finding to get a
glimpse of what is happening. A forthcoming report from the Center for
Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research and policy
institute, makes that task easier. It summarizes the findings from
evaluations of earnings and employment outcomes for welfare recipients
performed in 13 states.=20


The studies differ in many ways, including who was followed (former and
current recipients); the time periods of employment that were evaluated
(from one quarter to one year); and how researchers got their
information (surveys or looking at unemployment insurance quarterly
records).=20


                       Still, the results are remarkably similar: The
typical former welfare recipient is employed, working a substantial
number of hours, making poverty wages in a job that has no paid
vacation, sick leave, or employer-sponsored health care.=20


Studies of former welfare recipients in Indiana, Maryland, South
Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin found that between one-half and
two-thirds of parents were employed soon after leaving the welfare
rolls, regardless of why they left.=20


In Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington state,
researchers found that the majority of current and former recipients
work a substantial numbers of hours a week when they are employed -
usually 30 hours or more.=20


So far, so good. But before celebrating, stop to consider what the
studies found about how much people are earning.=20


In Pensacola, Fla., three-quarters of former and current recipients
earned less than $7 an hour. The average wage was $6.55 an hour in
Minnesota, $7.34 an hour in Portland, Ore., and $6.44 in South
Carolina. That's hardly enough to support a single person, let alone a
family.=20


In the studies that looked at total earnings received over several
months (rather than hourly wages when employed), researchers found that
the majority had earnings well below poverty level. In Milwaukee, 75
percent of former recipients had earnings below the  poverty line. In
Maryland, the average earnings amounted to $9,500 a year.=20


Researchers in Los Angeles, Delaware, Pensacola, Minnesota, and Oregon
found that current recipients, most in state work-demonstration
programs, had earnings that are two-thirds the official poverty line.=20


These earnings levels should come as no surprise when you look at the
kinds of jobs former recipients find. More that one-third of former
recipients in Maryland were working in wholesale or retail trade.
Almost half of those in South Carolina were in service occupations,
mostly in food preparation or lodging establishments. Close to
one-third of the employed former recipients in Milwaukee found jobs in
temporary employment agencies.=20


And what about ''family-friendly'' policies at such workplaces? In the
four states where researchers looked at whether employers offered
health insurance in the jobs held by working former or current
recipients, they found that between 40 and 60 percent did not. The two
studies that asked about vacation and sick leave found that about
one-third of employers offered sick days and less than half had paid
vacation time. There was no provision for mothers who had to miss work
because their children were sick.=20


Even with this set of studies, there is still much we don't know. Paid
work can build self-esteem, but it also conflicts with providing care
to families. What is happening to the children of mothers in the
workplace? Who watches the children when their mothers are working
between 30 and 40 hours a week?=20


The work many recipients are finding is clearly not what most of us
would consider good, or even stable, work. Are the workplaces safe, are
bosses abusive or exploitative, knowing their women employees have few
choices?=20


And perhaps the scariest questions of all: What is happening to the
''missing'' recipients - those who have left the rolls but do not turn
up in surveys or on unemployment insurance records? How are they
surviving?=20


Massachusetts, like the other states studied, has pursued a ''work
first'' strategy with a vengeance. For those who do find and keep paid
employment, welfare reform is translating into a ''working poor
creation'' policy. For those who can't find paid employment or can't do
paid work, it is worse than that.=20


Massachusetts, indeed the nation, has succeeded in implementing welfare
reform but not in addressing the problem of poverty, especially among
women and children. To call this a ''success'' is to stretch beyond
recognition the meaning of the word.=20


[Randy Albelda is a professor of economics at the University of
Massachusetts at Boston.]=20

HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink=
=2Enet>

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