Monday, January 15, 2007

A Welfare-to-Work Crisis?

I'm not quite sure what to make of today's article in the Boston Globe declaring the jobs program for welfare recipients to be a failure. While it seems as though the state should be doing a better job promoting the Full Employment Program and retool it to give employers better incentives to hire employees who are on welfare, it doesn't seem to me that Massachusetts is suffering from any kind of welfare crisis, nor does the recent evidence that I've heard suggest that those on welfare in Massachusetts are not working. Then again, "Jobs Program Needs Minor Adjustments" is not quite worthy of a front-page, above the fold article.

The Globe does note that the number of employers participating in this program has shrank from 500 in 1998 to only 32 today, it does not give any indication of what has happened to the number of employees participating. It seems to me that the number of welfare recipients who are currently working would be more relevant that the number of employers who are hiring them. What the article doesn't say is that 60% of welfare recipients meet minimum work requirements in Massachusetts, compared with 25% in California. In Ohio, a state not known for its generous social safety net, that number is 65%. Can the welfare-to-work program do better in Massachusetts? Of course. But is it a disaster of front-page-worthy proportions? I'm not so sure.

Another thing that the article makes much of is the growing number of families on welfare in Massachusetts since 2001. It's true that the number has risen by about 5-6%, but the graph accompanying the article puts the rise in perspective. Since the welfare-to-work program was initiated, the welfare rolls are down by about 40%. Considering that the Massachusetts economy has been crap since about 2001,
it's surprising that the increase since then has been so small.