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Study Targets Welfare in Wisconsin

January 14, 1999

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ The state’s first effort to document how former welfare recipients have fared since Wisconsin moved to a work-based system found more than a third were unemployed.

The study released Wednesday said 38 percent were not working for pay when they left state welfare rolls in the first three months of 1998. A third of them said they could not find a job or did not have the necessary skills or experience.

``It’s a high number″ of unemployed people, said state Sen. Gwendolyne Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat and critic of the state’s welfare program.

``We’re talking about an unemployment rate here,″ she said. ``If Alan Greenspan thinks 5 (percent) or 6 (percent) is bad, compare that to 38 percent of any given population. That’s a crisis.″

Wisconsin was one of the first states to implement its work-focused program after Congress overhauled welfare regulations in 1996. President Clinton called Wisconsin’s program one of the ``boldest, most revolutionary″ welfare plans in the country.

The study was based on interviews with 375 people who left the rolls of Wisconsin Works or the program it replaced, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Interviews were conducted in the first three months of 1998, when 3,564 recipients left the programs.

The study found that 83 percent had worked at least part of the time since leaving welfare rolls.

Sixty-eight percent of former recipients said getting a job was easier than living on welfare, though the same percentage said they were just barely making it financially.

About 62 percent said they were employed when they were interviewed.

``We’re pleased the statistic is as high as it is,″ said Jean Rogers, economic support administrator for the Department of Workforce Development.

Rogers said state officials are satisfied with the study and don’t think the 38 percent unemployment figure is a concern. She added that many of those who were not working said they have other sources of income, such as Social Security, pensions, or spouses with steady jobs.

The percentage of unemployed former recipients does not mean the program is failing, said Pamela Fendt, a policy analyst with the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

``A lot of what you’d want to know is how that 38 percent are faring without working, and this doesn’t really answer that,″ Fendt said.

Still, the unemployment figure worried advocates for the poor.

``I think that we have to look very seriously at the reasons for people not working and what it would take to help them get and retain jobs, ″ said Anne Arensen, director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Those who found work after leaving welfare earned an average of $7.42 an hour, the study said. And 87 percent said they had health insurance, either through Medicaid or through their employers.

Wisconsin Works requires recipients to work or receive job training to receive benefits. In return, the state pays for child care, transportation and other job-related costs. There were 13,818 families in the program in November, less than half the number who were on welfare when the program began in September 1997.