Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Earning a Living Isn't Always Easy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Earning a Living Isn't Always Easy

Article excerpt

When President Bill Clinton dropped by Manhattan's Riverside Church in February, he met Nilda Roman, a woman on welfare, who denounced new workfare requirements that forced welfare recipients out of college into low-level jobs.

"I've seen the women clean the toilets; it's horrid and it's demeaning," she told the president. In New York City, it's also 15 bucks an hour.

As we debate making welfare reform work, I haven't been able to get Roman's remarks out of my head. As it happens, I know two women - one a widow, one a divorcee - who clean toilets for a living. Each was comfortably upper middle class until life suddenly threw her on her own resources. For years, cleaning toilets was the best job available. I have often felt sorry for these women, and pondered the various evils (from death to divorce law) that thrust upon them such a difficult circumstance so late in life. More often, I have admired the energy with which they have thrown themselves into this difficult business of earning a living. For these women, like most Americans, understand what so many welfare advocates like Roman do not: There is no honest work that is more demeaning than living off handouts. During the years welfare was an entitlement, this was not the message most welfare recipients received. As the deadline for federal work requirements gets closer, journalists are treating us to a spate of stories about how difficult it will be to move welfare recipients to work. I am struck by the sameness of these diverse interviews with welfare moms, which make clear that a key problem is unrealistic attitudes toward work and its demands. Call it an excess of self-esteem: Michelle Gordon, a 30-year-old Kansas City, welfare mother of four, got a job last summer with a Kansas City insurer. Three months later, she quit. "The supervisor just kind of talked to me like a child, and I'm not her child," she told USA Today. In one sense, I can sympathize. …

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