President Bill Clinton is often credited by observers on the left and right for significantly changing the rules of the nation’s welfare system, and strongly encouraging low-income recipients to go to work. The reforms certainly succeeded in reducing welfare rolls, though many thousands of individuals who moved from “welfare to work” remain in poverty despite working.
With the significant increase in unemployment during the recent recession, many states saw their welfare rolls grow once again. Now, with the recession officially over, and some new jobs being added, this should be a time to once again see low-income individuals moving off of public assistance and into the labor market. Yet, many states, reeling from revenue declines and budget cuts, are making it much harder for low-income individuals to get to work. According to the New York Times, many states have cut child care subsidies that low-income women need in order to work.
Here in Massachusetts, the state senate’s budget reduced the Employment Services Program by nearly 40%. ESP is one of the few remaining programs that provide individuals on public assistance with many barriers to employment the opportunity to get training, placement and support services. JVS places over 70% of ESP clients in jobs, where they pay taxes and don’t draw down public assistance. Cuts to ESP, and other services like child-care subsidies, that help move people from welfare to work may help balance state budgets in the very short term, but they will cost taxpayers dearly very soon.