What Works in Work-First Welfare: Designing and Managing Employment Programs in New York City

What Works in Work-First Welfare: Designing and Managing Employment Programs in New York City

What Works in Work-First Welfare: Designing and Managing Employment Programs in New York City

What Works in Work-First Welfare: Designing and Managing Employment Programs in New York City

Synopsis

This book is a case study of how New York City's welfare-to-work programs were managed and implemented in the mid 2000s. New York City's welfare system is unique in many ways, so the results may or may not be generalizable to other cities. Even so, the case study is intended to be a rich source for the generation of hypotheses and a compelling and interesting story in itself.

Excerpt

In October 2004, Andy Feldman began doing the fieldwork for this book in the welfare-to-work programs of New York City. The welfare system in New York City, as in the nation as a whole, was in the midst of a massive transformation. The 1996 federal welfare reform legislation had promised to “end welfare as we know it,” and in many ways it had succeeded. Nationally, welfare rolls fell by two-thirds between 1994, their peak, and 2005. In New York City, the number of people receiving welfare fell from 1.1 million in the spring of 1995 to 420,000 in March 2005 when Andy was finishing his fieldwork. Caseloads have continued to fall, even in the midst of the serious recession of 2007–2009. Nationally, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program (TANF, formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC) average monthly caseload was 4 million in 2009, down from 14.2 million in 1994. In New York City, the caseload continued to fall after 2005, and was at 350,000 in early 2010.

These dramatic caseload declines inspired a small army of researchers who attempted to explain them. The resulting analyses have not been very satisfying. The declines were far larger than anyone would have predicted from previous history. The econometric studies established the importance of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and child support enforcement activities, but they mainly focused on the effects of an extremely good economy and tight labor market. The fact that caseloads have increased very little and in some places continued to fall during the 2007–2009 recession casts some doubt on the power of this latter explanation. Perhaps in desperation, researchers also hypothesized that a change had taken place in the “culture” of the welfare system and in the perceptions of recipients and potential recipients about welfare.

This book is an important contribution to our understanding of what was in fact going on in the welfare system and in related work programs after welfare reform. New York City’s welfare system is unusual in many ways. The size, scale, and diversity of the city are huge. Moreover, New York City is governed by New York State’s constitutional guarantee of assistance to the needy and by legislation and court decisions that are unusually generous. There is no effective time limit for welfare receipt in New York and only modest financial sanctions for noncompliance with rules. New York guarantees assistance to all, not just to families with children, and the New York caseload is thus unusual in its high proportion of men and of nonparents. But these very differences make New York an interesting place to study what goes on in welfare offices, where the attitudes and behaviors of the workers are almost by definition more . . .

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