OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS WELFARE POLICIES HAVE ATTEMPTED to link benefits with employment. Efforts have usually included longer-term approaches -- the so-called "human capital" approach -- focusing on providing welfare recipients with education and jobtraining, as well as short-term approaches focusing on finding employment and providing "job-search skills." More recently we have seen a shift in these trends as time-limited benefits and employment become a condition of receiving AFDC benefits; recipients are now either required to work immediately at "voluntary" jobs in the public sector or to seek employment in the private sector. This switch in policies is justified in terms of saving taxpayers money, helping impoverished families, and introducing AFDC recipients to the work ethic, thus helping them to move out of the "underclass" and into mainstream America.
Those are the myths. The reality is that the participation of AFDC recipients in welfare-to-work programs or welfare-for-work programs have resulted, at best, in a small proportion achieving marginal, and often temporary, financial gains. 1 Even when recipients find work, many continue to experience repeated welfare "dependency" -- either cycling on and off welfare, or combining welfare with work because their wage levels are so low they are still eligible for AFDC benefits. 2 Moreover, these sweeping changes ignore the fact that many AFDC recipients already have long employment histories, and about half have high school diplomas or GEDs.
There are many negative consequences of such approaches; the one I would like to discuss here is the deleterious effect on access to higher education for low-income women. I argue that although past policies offering postsecondary education access have been flawed,