As a single parent and former welfare recipient, Ada Cardoza
openly says that "life hasn't been easy."
But now things are looking up. She works each afternoon sorting
small packages into bags by zip code at a United Parcel Service
facility in Chelmsford, Mass. She gets paid $8 an hour.
Nearly a year after President Clinton signed the
welfare-overhaul bill, reform is going far better than critics
predicted last summer.
Mr. Clinton boasted recently that the welfare rolls have shrunk
by 1.2 million people since August. Economists say former welfare
recipients have helped fill some labor shortages in the robust
"Welfare reform couldn't have come at a better time," says
Isabell Sawhill, an economist at the Urban Institute in Washington.
"Because the economy is expanding so nicely, there are lots of jobs
The strong economy has made reform relatively easy so far. But
some major hurdles loom. For instance, the most-qualified welfare
recipients find it easier to move into jobs, but those with fewer
skills may not make the leap so quickly.
"Almost regardless of the state of the economy, some welfare
recipients are likely to encounter real difficulties in securing
steady employment," notes Sawhill, co-author of a study on job
prospects for welfare recipients.
Also, even many of those who have found jobs are still living
just above the poverty level.
And if the economy does sputter, former welfare recipients could
face much tougher times.
In Chelmsford, however, UPS worker shortage has been partly met
by the 25 people in the program for welfare recipients. It has "fit
our needs," says Christopher McNeil, work-force planning manager.
"And it fits their needs."
So far, more than 200 companies have joined Clinton's Welfare to
Work Partnership. The goal is to have 1,000 companies signed on
within the next six months.
Headed for self-sufficiency
For Ms. Cardoza there's little doubt her life has improved. "I'm
better off," she says. Working 20 hours a week, with overtime at
Christmas, she makes at least $640 a month. She used to get just
$300 a month from welfare and $76 in food stamps.
And in the morning, she goes to a UPS-sponsored school in her
hometown, Lawrence, Mass. Having dropped out of school in ninth
grade, she's working on a high school equivalency diploma.
Under the new law, Washington imposes a lifetime limit of five
years of receiving welfare benefits and gives control of welfare
cash assistance to the states. Cardoza had already been on welfare
more than five years when she got her job seven months ago at UPS,
at first unloading and loading trucks. …