Work, not welfare, uplifts the poor.

Continuing examples of lessons from the poverty wars by Peter Cove. His contention is that work, not welfare lift the poor…which was precisely what I was talking about with a couple of left-wingers at the pub on Friday evening.

I’ve become fed up with the useless policies that I once supported, and I’m trying to change the strategy of our bogged-down army.

We know for certain that income transfers, the preferred tactic of generations of liberals, have utterly failed to end poverty. My firsthand experience with welfare clients has shown me why: being on the dole encourages dependency. Working at a real job, by contrast, is the surest way for a person to climb out of poverty. Accordingly, the surest way for the government to fight poverty is to eliminate cash assistance almost entirely and offer jobs instead.

Fortunately the left-wingers at the table all agreed with that sentiment, unfortunately others still prefer the destruction of welfare.

Welfare isn’t working…if it did we would have solved the issue of poverty long ago. Getting people into work is what is needs…and almost any job is good enough.

[W]e showed that the best way to get clients off welfare was to get them paid work immediately, rather than enroll them in training and education programs. I saw with my own eyes the value of work—any kind of paid work—in reducing welfare dependency and attacking poverty. I learned that if we helped welfare clients get jobs, even entry-level jobs, they would then attend to their other needs. By contrast, if the government gave them money and other benefits, they were likely to remain dependent.

The reasons should have been obvious all along. Work maximizes a person’s capacity to achieve economic self-reliance. Work socializes people and instills a sense of personal responsibility in them. Work connects behavior and consequences. And it permits people, especially men, to obtain the admiration and respect of their spouses and children by supporting them.

Peter Cove created America Works…a FOR Profit Welfare agency that doesn’t get paid unless it succeeds.

[T]he conventional wisdom was that there was no place for a private, for-profit venture in the antipoverty field. Most activists believed that helping welfare recipients was God’s work, that making profits was dirty, and that a private company would inevitably rip off the profits and reduce services to the poor. I got a boost, though, from Ohio governor Richard Celeste, who let me secure a contract from his state’s social-services department to open welfare-to-work programs in Cleveland and Dayton. With that contract in hand, I raised $1 million in start-up money, betting that a for-profit company could do the job better than government welfare agencies could and simultaneously bring accountability to a field that desperately needed it.

America Works staked its survival on the proposition that welfare clients, properly motivated and helped with a limited amount of technical assistance, could be successful at getting and holding jobs. Our typical contract with a welfare department stipulates that we don’t get paid our full fee until we place a client in a job and the client then completes a successful probationary period of four months. This arrangement motivates our trainers and employment specialists to perform well: they understand that if they are unsuccessful with job placements, America Works will fail, and they’ll be out of a job.

Imagine the howls of outrage that would come if the government proposed this method of welfare delivery. The problem with the screamers is that it actually works.

In the past 27 years, America Works has placed more than 250,000 poor people, with an average of five to six years on the rolls, in private-sector jobs, with an average starting wage of $10 per hour plus benefits. In our New York program, to take one example, more than half of these new workers were still on the job after 180 days. The employers that we have worked with include prestigious companies, such as Time Warner, Cablevision, Aramark, J. C. Penney, and American Building Maintenance Industries. Most of these employers keep coming back, asking for more of our referrals.

Single parents, drug and alcohol abusers, the mentally handicapped, the homeless, military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, and others with disabilities have succeeded admirably in a wide variety of jobs and have lifted themselves out of a lifetime of poverty. Take Ann Marie Lynch, a welfare mother of two who was evicted from her apartment and entered a homeless shelter in 2009. Luckily, she came to America Works, where we helped her compose a résumé, prepared her for interviews, and sent her to meet potential employers. After two months, she began a job as a home health aide; she even began working on an associate’s degree in business administration, which she received this May.

Despite our track record, we were never fully accepted by the welfare-industrial complex. In Ohio, county welfare offices and traditional social-services agencies flexed their political muscles and successfully lobbied the state to discontinue our contract after two years. In New York, during the mayoralty of David Dinkins, city agencies rejected our bids for welfare-to-work contracts four consecutive times. At one point, we were accused of “creaming”—selecting only the ablest clients, who would have landed jobs on their own anyway. That claim was disproved by a study conducted by NYU political scientist Lawrence Mead showing that our clients were representative of the general welfare population.

In these times I think it is something well worth looking at.

I will explore Peter Cove’s radical solution in another post later today.


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