What Has Worked, What Has Not,
and What is Needed
DEBATES ABOUT WELFARE REFORM OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES have focused on putting poor women to work. Arguing that recipients have become "welfare dependent, " politicians claim that they need to become "independent" by working for wages. Democrats have generally suggested a combination of "carrots" and "sticks" -- some funds for childcare subsidies, education, and training, in addition to work requirements. Clinton's proposal of "two years and off" is the most severe of these work requirements, intended to put into practice his pledge to "end welfare as we know it." Republicans have skipped the "carrots" altogether, as their two-year maximum on AFDC would have few exemptions. Women would be forced to become "independent" and work -- or they could get married.
But what jobs will be available? Years of plant closings, downsizing, and streamlining have eliminated millions of higher-wage jobsboth blue-collar in industries such as steel and autos, and white-collar in middle-management. The majority of jobs that have been created are low-wage, service sector jobs with no health benefits. They offer an unstable foundation for "independence" from working for wages.
This situation should lead to proposals for government job creation -- programs similiar to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in the 1970s. Unlike workfare, these fair work programs were voluntary, based payments on market wages, and developed innovative and useful projects. But instead of recognizing the accomplishments and potential of public employment programs, they are