Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma

By Ralph Segalman; Asoke Basu | Go to book overview

8
WORK, EDUCATION, AND POVERTY IN AMERICA

EMPLOYMENT placement has long been viewed as a method of helping individual families in poverty. In early family casework programs, such as were developed under the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (NYAIP), the worker was usually encouraged to find a job for his client ( Trattner, Chapter 2). This placement was often effected through informal channels, with the worker soliciting jobs for his clients among those employers known to him through his social circle (the NYAIP workers were usually upper class volunteers). The process of fitting the job to the client and vice versa was usually done in a pro forma manner. The purpose of such job placement was to get the family on a financially independent basis. Clients received little or no training or orientation for such employment. Such job placement usually involved unskilled employees, and the job required few skills and little education.

Only in recent years has employment been downgraded as a means of resolving poverty. Steiner, in his comprehensive work on welfare, deals thoroughly with a variety of relief systems, including public housing, food stamps, and reform strategies but makes no reference to employment, even in the index. Trattner, in his comprehensive history of social welfare in America, also omits all reference to employment as a mechanism for resolving poverty. Charles A. Reich, in his popular work Greening of America, takes the position that increasingly sophisticated, self-regulating machinery will expand to such a degree that an increasing proportion of working-age people will be unable to find a need for their services. Thus, in Reich's view, concern for economic security or for material goods is becoming less of a motivation for work effort, and the distribution of security and rewards will eventually be carried out without regard for individual efforts. Accordingly, conventional definitions of work and employment will lose much of their relevance. A growing majority of the population will relate to the economy primarily as consumers. Reich and many other social reformers believe that this process has already begun in the creation of a sizable nonworking consuming population which includes those on welfare. Johnston labels this position on the future of

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