Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Public Sector Strains to Fill Welfare Gap Reforms Spur US, State Agencies to Hire the Poor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Public Sector Strains to Fill Welfare Gap Reforms Spur US, State Agencies to Hire the Poor

Article excerpt

Here's how the economy looks to many Americans: Growth is humming along. Unemployment and inflation are at a 30-year low. Stocks are soaring.

Here's how the economy looks to many Americans on welfare: Unemployment in the low-end job market hangs stubbornly above 20 percent. One-third of all unskilled laborers work part-time or on an irregular basis. Jobs in inner cities are hard to come by.

To people on the bottom rungs, job prospects are already as bleak as a Siberian landscape in winter. In the absence of a broad welfare safety net, how will these Americans survive, some ask, if and when the economy goes sour? For some states, and now for federal agencies, part of the answer may be government jobs. President Clinton endorsed the idea over the weekend, ordering US agencies to hire former welfare recipients as "worker trainees." Doing so, he said, will set an example for businesses and nonprofit organizations. The president has already urged the private sector to do its part to hire people who - under the welfare-reform law passed last summer - will lose cash benefits after two years on the rolls. But the idea may be more about politics than effective policy, meant to soothe critics of welfare reform on the left. Federal agencies, never a prolific source of low-end jobs, are shrinking. Moreover, states such as Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Vermont are already trying public-sector job programs with mixed and inconclusive results. "It is curious to put this forth as something that will make a big difference - given the timing," says Jean Rogers, a welfare-reform administrator at the Wisconsin Department of Social Services. "Government should focus on expectations for the private sector. Community-service jobs are not a replacement for regular work." The welfare reforms Clinton signed into law last year ended the 61-year guarantee of federal assistance to poor families. The president's announcement Saturday does not represent a new job guarantee from the federal government, but it does count as one more attempt to soften the impact of last year's reform law. "What we are about to see is the rhetoric of welfare reform put to the test," says Evelyn Brodkin, an expert on welfare at the University of Chicago. …

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