Lawrence Mead Talking Points
We're supposed to look to
the future of welfare.
It's tough to guess, since
so much unexpected has happened already.
But three things are
1. There's no going
The public desire to base
welfare on work was always profound.
For thirty years,
politicians, especially in Washington, chiefly pursued
Liberals wanted to do more
for the poor, conservatives less.,
Rather than change the
nature of welfare to enforce work.
Somehow PRWORA broke the
It set the toughest work
requirements yet from the federal level.
States are also getting
much tougher about expecting work.
It's true that only a few,
such as Wisconsin, have a hard-and-first work
But most have:
participation levels, backed up by much tougher
In a recent GAO study of
seven states, the share of welfare adults participating
in work programs rose from 44 to 65 percent between 1994
Insisted on "work
first" rather than education and training.
In the same GAO study, the
share of participants in job placement rose from half or
less to half or more in the the same period.
A reversal is
To link welfare and work
is deeply popular and legitimate.
To question it would take
far more adverse consequences for families than we see to
2. Not everyone is
going to work
The new demands have
sharply raised work levels among recipients and former
participants, both on and off welfare.
In GAO's study, 6 out of 7
states had raised job placement rates sharply, 1995-7.
Also, the share of
families meeting TANF participation standards, which
require work for most, rose from 8-28 percent to 19-55
percent over 1994-7.
If all the former
recipients were working, the future would be clear--keep
enforcing work and driving the rolls down.
But the largest effect of
work enforcement to date hasn't been work but diversion.
Massive numbers of people
are simply leaving the rolls and disappearing.
The national TANF rolls
have fallen by more than a third since 1994, far more
than anyone predicted.
In some states, the fall
is far greater than this.
But surveys suggest that
only about half of these families are working.
The others are finding
other ways to survive, typically by getting help from
friends and relatives.
Not everyone is capable of
The rolls will not fall
3. Welfare will change
Something must be done for
Can't work in regular
Leave without working and
then can't sustain themselves.
Both groups will grow in
the next recession.
Welfare agencies will
engage in outreach to former and potential clients.
Partly to address these
And because the current
caseload fall leaves them with slack capacity.
We can't go back to
The public will not accept
large numbers of clients getting aid simply because they
appear to be incompetent.
Even those who can't work
in regular jobs will be expected to something for society
in return for aid.
Some form of structured
That would be good for
them and the community.
The only out will be for
those impaired enough to qualify for the disability
Rather, welfare will
Fewer people will be on
But those who remain on
the rolls will be dealt with more ambitiously.
They will get aid.
But they will also be
expected to function, in minimal ways.
A build up public jobs
programs is likely, perhaps using Welfare to Work money.
Intensive social services
will play a larger and more directive role than in the
Social work academics hate
But for operating social
workers, it's a mandate for full employment,
Welfare will become a
regime--both supportive and mandatory.
How is all this
consistent with the TANF time limits--it isn't.
For the bottom of the
caseload, I think, welfare will have to choose between
time limits and work.
TANF has cut dependency
more than it has raised work levels, although it doing
The 1 /5 exemption from
the time limit may or may not be enough to
"carry" the difficult cases beyond five years.
These cases need structure
to function at all--and that may take a welfare system
that looks beyond five years.
The public ultimately is
more interested in promoting effort than in ending all
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