Job Market in W.Va. Defies Efforts to Reform Welfare: "She has just turned 30, but her left ankle, crushed when her Dodge compact slammed into a cliff four years ago, keeps her limping, in pain and out of work. Just getting around is a job. She lives in a hollow where the roads twist like whirligigs and it takes half an hour to get to the grocery store -- 45 minutes if you end up behind a coal truck. But she no longer has a car, so she has to grab rides from relatives when she can.
Pedestrians and cars filled McDowell Street in downtown Welch, W.Va., in the 1970s, left. Since the coal boom ended, however, cities such as Welch have struggled with poverty and high rates of unemployment.
Pedestrians and cars filled McDowell Street in downtown Welch, W.Va., in the 1970s, left. Since the coal boom ended, however, cities such as Welch have struggled with poverty and high rates of unemployment. (West Virginia State Archive Via Associated Press)
Diamond received welfare, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), until the 60-month limit ran out. Nearly two years later, she began receiving disability checks, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). She gets $479 a month and $160 in food stamps. Still, she says, she can barely afford the electric bills for her trailer or food for her 8-year-old daughter.
She believes this is how it will always be. 'I can't work at all,' she said, 'and there ain't no jobs here no how, except in the coal mines. There's nowhere else for me to go, neither. Without my family, I would not survive.'
In the Central Appalachian coal country, where the land is famously rich and the people famously not, welfare caseloads are down, but poverty still flourishes. Since the 1996 welfare reform law, or Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, took effect, the rolls in West Virginia have dropped from 38,404 to fewer than 10,000. In general, the law -- which sets a five-year limit for receiving welfare and requires recipients to get an education, take job training or perform community service -- is considered a success. But in West Virginia, many former recipients are worse off than before, according to research by West Virginia University.
Even as the Senate is considering reauthorizing the welfare reform act with stricter work requirements and more child care funding, a prime goal of the act -- moving welfare recipients into jobs -- remains elusive in rural West Virginia, according to the research, done in conjunction with the state Department of Health and Human Resources. A year after their checks stopped, 73.1 percent of former recipients were unemployed, 65.6 percent reported not being able to afford their basic utilities, and only a small proportion believed that their prospects for the future were good (11.3 percent) or excellent (3.1 percent), the researchers found."
Sunday, July 24, 2005
We should measure welfare reform on whether it succeeds in lifting the poor out of poverty. Not just on whether case loads are reduced! Hopefully this will be a priority for a restored Democratic congress, but given the New Democrat leanings of the modern Democrats somehow I doubt it.