Quaker Group Criticizes Welfare Program for Low Wages
BOSTON (AP) _ A job-training program hailed as a national model for getting people off welfare places most of its graduates into clerical and sales jobs that pay too little to support a family, according to a study released today by a Quaker group.
In the 32-page study prepared for the American Friends Service Committee, economists Teresa Amott and Jean Kluver praised the basic design of the program, known as Employment and Training Choices, but said it does not go far enough.
″Too much public attention has been focused on the number of people who get off welfare, ignoring the continuing need for income maintenance programs,″ Ms. Amott said.
The authors called the program a ″good start″ for helping welfare recipients enter the paid work force, saying that it works because it is not a mandatory ″workfare″ program and because it provides participants with child care, transportation and four months of medical benefits.
But they called for job placements that pay higher starting wages, expanded support services, training programs aimed at higher-wage jobs and ″an active commitment to eliminate disparities based on sex or color.″
Over its first 30 months of operation, the program found jobs for some 23,000 people who received Aid to Families with Dependent Children, reducing the welfare rolls to a 12-year low and saving the state some $107 million, according to state officials.
But, the report said, some of the credit must be given to the booming Massachusetts economy - the state tied New Hampshire last year for the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.9 percent. In addition, the authors said, 14 percent of those who leave the welfare rolls through the program are back on welfare within a year, and nearly 25 percent of those getting jobs are not heads of households, so their families remain on welfare.
The report’s principal criticism concerns the wages earned by program graduates, most of whom are young women with children. Ms. Amott and Kluver argued that the Welfare Department had overstated its success by claiming that participants could almost double their income.
The department has circulated figures stating that average wages are $10,200 a year, compared to the average welfare grant of $5,184.
Ms. Amott and Kluver calculated that family aid grants, combined with food stamps and other benefits, give the average welfare recipient $7,860 a year, while the average earnings from job placements equal only $8,568 after accounting for taxes, work expenses and lost benefits.
Welfare Commissioner Charles Atkins said he had not seen the study, but he said it appeared to be based on outdated data.
″In fact, I’m very, very pleased to be able to report that the average full-time starting wage for ET is now over $12,000 a year. So it’s substantially above where it was 15 months ago,″ he said.