Welfare to work and policy reform
Independence is a strong psychological seed in every human being’s psyche. We strive for independence from our parents as teenagers, and as adults, work to keep our independence intact. We build families, and our lives around employment and our wants and desires. It all takes money, of course, and so the ability to work weaves a strong thread in achieving and maintaining independence. How people maintain independence though, is very different, and relies heavily on circumstances and opportunity. There are some who struggle to stay out of poverty by working more than one job, or working to make opportunities for their children’s future.
There are also those, however, who decide that using the system is the best opportunity they have, as is the notable case in Jason DePerle’s book following three cases of welfare in Clinton’s America. In 1996, on the eve of President Clinton’s welfare reforms, the way the welfare system worked was going to receive a much needed reworking: “During the Carter years, the government helped an average of 290,000 new families each year find housing. Since then, the average has fallen to 74,000 a year–meaning it would take 72 years to work through the backlog of 5.
3 million families with what the government calls “worst case” housing needs. No, make it 73 years, since under the next year’s budget the number of new families assisted essentially falls to zero, for the first time in modem history. ”(DePerle, 1996) Through a system change instigated by the Republican-led Congress, the power of welfare was returning to state governments, which included doing away with the AFDC, the system poignantly featured as the reason Angela Jobe and her family moved from Chicago to Milwaukee.
There was mixed emotions prior to the implementation of the Senate bill, where many felt drastic changes in welfare could lead to unfavorable results, as was suggested in an editorial, “in the end, the politicians who take the credit for doing away with welfare this year can also take the blame for the suffering that is sure to follow” (The Progressive, 1996). Nevertheless, as was showcased in DePerle’s book “American Dream”, the results proved to be far from disastrous.
Having read the book, I believe the text was hard to follow especially trying to figure out the family tree, I had to keep referring to the back of the book to figure out who was who. I thought it was challenging because the story of the family was not in chronological order. However I felt the timeline in the back of the book came in very handy. The dynamics of the families were poignant in as far as their personal struggles. I found it unbelievable that someone would go as far as move across states to a better welfare system, rather than explore employment options within their own home state.
It was incredible for me to believe that families would move to Milwaukee because of their better welfare system. From a political point-of-view, the Clinton administration struck a successful chord with ending the abuse of welfare systems, as well as changing the structure and face of welfare. Something that had not been done since the 1960s. DePerle, himself comments: “Ten thousand businesses have joined an organization that promotes the hiring of welfare recipients. Church groups across the country are giving job applicants interview outfits.
Chambers of Commerce are posting billboards that challenge the “myths” about people on welfare. For the first time in a long while, anti-poverty work seems to have a tailwind” (Washington Monthly, 1999). The Bill had changed the perceptions of poverty in particular, and was making ground-breaking steps in creating opportunities for the unemployed and impoverished. It spoke to businesses in a language they understood – money and incentives – creating a win-win situation just on the cusp of an economic boom. It was perhaps surprising, initially, to read that such incredible incentives were given to businesses.
With the Bill in place, there appeared to be a positive approach across the country. Results were reported nationwide, with companies and corporations at the cornerstone of providing opportunities to work through training programs. One such program was the hotel Marriott International’s welfare-to-work program which saw “nearly 600 people through its welfare-to-work program in the past few years, has proved that welfare recipients can work, and its ambitious project may well become a model for corporate America” (Trenches, 1998).
In 1997’s State of the Union address, Clinton urged Americans into action, stating that “our moral obligation [is] to make sure that people who now must work, can work. ” and by ensuring “tax credits and other incentives for businesses that hire people off welfare; incentives for job placement firms and states to create more jobs for welfare recipients; training, transportation, and child care to help people go to work” (Transcript, 1997). Clinton’s administration were adamant on making a good start with a new welfare system that was devised to get people to work, rather than work the system.
Following Angela Jobe in DeParle’s book often times was a perfect example on how the old welfare system was so easily abused. Angela was perhaps one of many who claimed welfare checks, despite having a patchy work history, and working part-time whilst collecting checks. I believe a person should be paid to work, and it was incredulous the lengths people would go to get paid for nothing. Despite this, when the reforms are made, Jobe seems to fair very well under the new system. She is able to afford a car, works shift work, and even goes on a summer vacation with her family.
However, DePerle’s follow-up makes it evident that Jobe is still struggling, even with tax credit breaks and housing aid. The personal stories suggest more is involved in the logic behind abusing the welfare system, than just how easy it was to do so in some states. Circumstance is everything, and whilst the Clinton administration was successful in overhauling the welfare system, it was merely just a start. The dynamics of poverty and middle-class poverty in particular, were not adjusted with the welfare reform.
Rather, it gave opportunity for political and social analysts to understand poverty and the lives of those in a constant state of it. DePerle’s look into Jobe’s life, and those around her, gave us a not often seen perspective on what drives someone surrounded by poverty, or from a low- to middle-class background. “People respond to strong social cues, as she did when she got on the bus, and later when she got off welfare. Second, poor people are more resilient — and more resistant to fundamental behavior modification — than their various would-be improvers suppose” (Will, 2004).
Essentially, welfare families, or poverty-stricken ghettos are often painted with drug addiction, depression and struggling single-parent families – often women, and mothers. The three families in the book were perfect examples of these ‘stereotypes’ and it is such cases that are referred to when it is suggested that there is more to the dynamics of the welfare system than just five-year limits, and work incentives for businesses. What is at the foundation of the welfare system, is the long-term sovereign of the system in propagating poverty ghettos.
It is a vicious circle of empathy and lack of opportunity; as well as drug addiction, and structure-less families. It is perhaps easy to judge how a ghetto survives, but anti-poverty lobbyists have often cited that drugs and depression are prime “barriers to work” (Hymowitz, 2004). It isn’t difficult to appreciate how being constantly surrounded by a desperate situation would perhaps make one desperate themselves, or in Jobe’s case, hardened and slightly manipulative to survive.
She, herself, describes herself as a “survivor” and in such circumstances –especially with a drug addicted cousin and an imprisoned ‘husband’ – it is easy to believe she is right. Even with such fundamental reforms, albeit, drastic changes to how the welfare system worked, it was easy to see that whilst policy makers had perhaps made the right step forward, they were far from perfect. People were still going to slip through the cracks, or in some cases, disappear entirely off the radar. It was a system that made it tiresome to endure, so, you were either going to find work, or be demoralized in yet another struggle to contend with:
“If the welfare law has worked, however, it has largely worked as a deterrent, creating enough hassles that those with other options make other plans. Some states require a month-long job search before applicants can collect benefits. Some, including Wisconsin, route recipients through rounds of job-search and motivation classes so tedious they make the competent flee. It is much less common for the system to do what it often claims, to provide individualized services that get at the underlying issues in poor women’s lives, like drug abuse or depression” (DePerle, 2004).
It isn’t difficult to understand how the ‘new’ welfare system could contribute to keeping the down-trodden, down – both physically and mentally. The welfare bill brought in by the Clinton administration set the tone for how social welfare and opportunity should be a community responsibility and not one solely left to circumstances. If a country is to succeed after all, it should be proud of its roots and able to nurture its citizens into living fruitful lives.
Realistically, this isn’t going to be the case, but what should be considered as a default to any welfare system is providing ground zero services: child-care, housing aid, basic training and resources. The welfare system introduced, theoretically had such services, but none of them have contributed greatly to improving the overall attitude of those in poverty. There are still drugs and depression controlling ghettos. Social and moral responsibility has been neglected for a need to survive, or in many cases, the desire not to care.
Single mothers are forced to fend for themselves and their families, whilst supposed ‘fathers’ go out and do it all again. If any social policy is going to succeed then it needs to reevaluate how it tackles moral issues, and the impact they have on society. A good place for any policy to start in improving social reform would be through education and training programs. We can not force morals and principles, but we can provide opportunity for a person to devise their own, and formulate their own ideals on how to live a better life.
Making someone socially responsible in an environment that is rife with crime, drug addiction and poverty, would mean getting to the root of the problem and not merely providing a band-aid across it. Political parties would have their own agendas for pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage, but regardless of politics, the intrinsic element is creating not only a sense of belonging but also opportunity. Providing opportunities for single-mothers and their children to further their education, or incorporate assistance on a case-by-case basis, would work better than an elaborate maze of red-tape and bureaucracy.
Fundamentally this means improving social worker conditions and incentives to pursue social services as a career. Volunteer-to-work programs could educate and train people in local communities for these positions, as well as provide the necessary trust between community and government services. Mandatory drug programs and free community services for depression, as well as community centers for after-school and childcare could also reduce these controlling factors. Providing incentives for corporations to do more within a community could also help with funding of such programs and facilities.
A scheme that adopts an attitude to help drug addicts quit by incorporating a welfare check with a weekly health check-up could be a valuable incentive to not only stop drug addiction, but provide someone the services and opportunity to change their lives. In turn, perhaps one of the greatest areas needing reform is healthcare and health assistance to those on welfare. It remains evident that despite such services being available, they are not utilized fully, or are abused. Reducing the hassle surrounding free healthcare should be considered in any social reform policy.
In order for any welfare system to be fully successful, it needs to provide a temporary assistance for someone looking for work, or to better their opportunities in life. With this in mind, a policy should do exactly this, and not give permission or chance for someone to ‘overstay’ their welcome in welfare. A time-limit is perhaps invaluable, but it should be considered alongside individual factors, including size of family, economic circumstances, and health.
Works Cited _. “Real Welfare Bums – Costs of Welfare Reform – Editorial”. The Progressive. March 1996.FindArticles. com. 23 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1295/is_n3_v60/ai_18049692 ) _. “Reporting from the Trenches – Column”.
Washington Monthly. Jan-Feb 1998. FindArticles. com. 23 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_n1_v30/ai_20239560 ) _. Transcript of State of the Union Address, 1997. (http://www. cnn. com/2005/ALLPOLITICS/01/31/sotu. clinton1997/index. html ) DeParle, J. “Dream Deferred “. Washington Monthly. Sept 2004. FindArticles. com. 22 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_9_36/ai_n6332291).
DeParle, J. “House the Poor – The Missing Issues – Cover Story”. Washington Monthly. Jan-Feb 1996. FindArticles. com. 25 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_n1-2_v28/ai_17761505 ) Deparle, J. “The Silence of the Liberals”. Washington Monthly. April 1999. FindArticles. com. 23 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_4_31/ai_54367634 ) Hymowitz, K. “Off the Dole” Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. 2005 Will, G. “Book Puts Human Face on Battle over Welfare Reform”. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Dec 30, 2004.