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Frances Fox Piven, “The Link Between Welfare Reform and the Labor Market”

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“The Link Between Welfare Reform and the Labor Market”

Francis Fox Piven, 1999 [PDF]

I’m very glad to be here. Ed Sparer was my friend and I want

to join in honoring him. And I’m also glad for a chance to talk

about welfare policy, and its implications for social justice in our


The press touts welfare reform as a great success because the

rolls are down from their peak, by 44%.1 Why is that a cause for

celebration? Because the main argument in the campaign against

welfare is that a too-liberal welfare system has had perverse effects

on the personal morality of the women and children who receive

welfare. Those presumed effects include lax sexual and

childbearing behavior; the idea that women spawn babies to get

on welfare, and that when welfare is available, the men who father

those babies can easily walk away. Even more important, a

too-liberal welfare system was said to make it possible for women

to drop out of the labor force. Those charges, which became more

and more heated as the campaign against welfare went on,

sparked a kind of national revival movement to restore moral

compulsion to the lives of poor women.2

Politicians and the press now celebrate the big reductions in

the welfare rolls in ways that keep the revival movement alive.

Think of the press accounts of particular women, the stories about

a Cheri, or an Opal, or a Denise, each of them tales about women

who were kicked off welfare and, as a result, somehow pulled

themselves together, found a job, put a life together for themselves

and now are smiling and successful, their children proud, and so


Liberals inclined to defend poor women and their right to

welfare have been in disarray. True, there have been efforts to

answer charges about the perverse effects of welfare. One answer

is simply that most women who apply for welfare don’t stay on

very long. True enough. Another answer is that most women who

are on welfare are not the teenage moms evoked by all of the sex

talk. And that also is true.3 Nevertheless, these are weak answers,

weakly offered. Liberals are enfeebled I think because they also

are distressed about the moral implications of too generous welfare

state. In particular, liberals are uncomfortable with the possibility

that if welfare is too easy, too generous, some people’ will not


The American Left has a great infatuation with wage work, an

infatuation probably equally informed by Calvin and Marx. The

Left regards wage work as the road to a kind of salvation, to the

realization of human creativity and the development of solidarities,

for example. On the other side, there was welfare, and the Left

worried, not without reason, about the sort of life one could live

on welfare, especially considering the low benefits and the

constant insult that accompanies the status of the welfare recipient

So, troubled by their longstanding romance with wage work,

and by their justifiable dislike of welfare, the Left defense of the

AFDC system against the forces that were seeking to dismantle it

was weak. But caught up in this dilemma, not enough people

wondered what sort of reform is welfare reform? Does it remedy

the presumably pernicious aspects of welfare? Time has passed,

and we now can begin to look at the impact of reform on the

demoralizing aspects of the old welfare system, and its impact on

wage work as well.

What the Left overlooked: the Link Between Social Welfare and the Labor Market

Under welfare reform, the rolls are down, to be sure. But it’s

no trick to cut the rolls; simply refusing aid does that Reducing

poverty is another matter.4 Welfare reform has not brought us

reductions in child poverty, despite the fact that unemployment is

at a historical low. 5 In Wisconsin, the flagship of welfare reform,

two out of three people who were cut off welfare are worse off

economically than they were when they were on welfare.6 South

Carolina is one of the few states that has instituted a fairly careful

method of tracking what happens to the people cut off the rolls.

Their data indicate that welfare reform has resulted in increased

economic hardship: more people default on their mortgages, on

their utility bills, more people report they cannot get enough to eat

for themselves and their children.

Under welfare reform, the food stamp rolls are going down,

the Medicaid rolls are going down, for the obvious reason that the

application for welfare was the main administrative route to

food stamps and Medicaid.7 Overall, it appears that about half of

the people that have been cut off welfare are not in fact working.:::

In New York 70 percent of the people cut off welfare are not

working.9 And no one really knows what is happening to those

who did not get jobs.10 We do know that the food pantries and

homeless shelters are deluged with pleas for help that they are

unable to meet And we know that those that do get jobs earn

very low wages.11

The gist of my argument today is that throughout this

campaign, this national revival movement to restore moral

compulsion to the lives of poor women, we were encouraged to

look at the wrong issues. The American public became preoccupied

with the morality of the personal choices of poor

women. We were preoccupied with whether women who

confronted very limited and bad alternatives were choosing the

more moral of those alternatives. Was it right for poor mothers to

take welfare? What we should have looked at instead was the

impact of welfare cutbacks on the institutional arrangements that

generate the choices which confront poor women. We should

have focused on the bearing of welfare and welfare reform on

labor markets. There are moral issues here, but they are not

whether it is right or wrong for a woman to apply for welfare so

she can be at home with her children or take care of her sick

husband. Rather, the moral issues have to do with the distribution

of economic well being in our society, as well as the distribution of

opportunity and hope.

If we had focused on these moral issues, and the institutional

arrangements that are implicated in them, we would have viewed

welfare reform quite differently. As it was, welfare reform was

celebrated because it would force poor mothers to work. But by

forcing poor and desperate mothers to compete in the low wage

labor market, the terms offered to low wage workers generally will

deteriorate. Wages and working conditions will be depressed, not

only for the women who are cut off welfare, but for large numbers

of who are already working at low wages.

In fact, I think that welfare cutbacks are part of a broad

reconfiguration of American social policy that is making work more

insecure and depressing wages. Welfare reform is one very

important aspect of this reconfiguration. Underlying this broad

redirection of American social policy is an ancient logic, a logic

that has always governed welfare policy and unemployment

insurance policy, and before that, poor relief policy. The logic was

grasped in 19th century England as the principle of less eligibility.

The principle argued that no one who lives on relief should be as

well off as the lowest independent laborer. In short, whatever

benefits are available from relief or welfare must ensure that

recipients are worse off than those who are at the very bottom of

the labor market.

Nowadays experts use different language. The principle of

less eligibility is discussed as the tradeoff between welfare and

work. And buried beneath all of talk about the immorality of

people taking welfare instead of working is the tradeoff. If people

are able to survive according to the standards of their community

without working, some will not work-especially when the only

kind of work available to them is drudgery, work that earns them

no respect, and that pays very little. In other words, when the

terms of wage work are harsh and degrading, some people will

choose welfare, unless welfare is even harsher and more


It also follows from this logic that if we have a welfare s},1stem

that supports people at standards judged respectable by their

community, employers won’t be able to get workers unless they

offer them something better than welfare. Stated another way,

income protection programs give people a degree of economic

security, a measure of protection from the exigencies of the labor

market That measure of security means power. It means that with

a generous welfare system, workers are better able to bargain with

their employers.

You can see the logic of the tradeoff in welfare reform. It is the

logic of lifetime limits. No one can get aid from welfare for more

than five years in a Iifetime.12 It is the logic of work requirements

while on welfare. In many states an application for welfare now

means an application for a work assignment, for some~ form of

workfare. In all states, recipients must be assigned to work after

two years. In Mississippi, welfare recipients are being placed in

catfish and chicken processing plants. In Baltimore welfare

recipients are being assigned to housekeeper jobs in hotels. And,

in fact, recipients were used to break a strike at the Omni Harbor

hotel in Baltimore. In Wisconsin, welfare recipients are being

assigned to employers for full forty-hour weeks, and they get only

a welfare check because it is called training. In New York City,

recipients wear orange day-glo vests as they do the work that

unionized public sector workers once did. New York is also trying

to replace welfare centers with “job centers”-a device copied

from Wisconsin. The main innovation in these job centers appears

to be something called “diversion,” practices which prevent

people from making a formal application for welfare by

intimidating them, or sending them to a food pantry, or simply

making them wait.

At the same time, we have increased the harassment that both

applicants and recipients must endure, and this is part of the same

logic. Since we are not making low wage work much better, we

are making welfare much worse, to prevent the tradeoff. We do

this by increasing the stigma of welfare. Finger printing and drug

tests are, after all, rituals of degradation. We increase the

bureaucratic harassment, with multiple investigations, for example.

And then we have greatly elaborated the rules, and expanded the

discretion of welfare staff, to increase the occasions on which

people can be sanctioned, by benefit reductions or outright cutoffs.

Seven states now sanction people by cutting off all family benefits

after three violations of the rules.13 These violations often occur

when recipients don’t understand the notices they receive, or are

late for an appointment No matter the reason- a sick child, for

example-the infraction justifies the sanction.14 In some states,

most of the reduction in the rolls has been achieved by the

application of sanctions for rule infractions.

Under these new and harsh conditions, there is no tradeoff at

all for many people. Once a family reaches the time limit, there

is no alternative to low wage work. Once a family is sanctioned,

there is no alternative. And for people being made to dean the

streets in an orange day-glo jacket, the terms of welfare are much

worse than the terms of any work. Under these conditions, poor

women will pour into the labor market and compete for whatever

work they can find.15 As a result, wages fall. They fall first in the

lower tiers of the labor market where former recipients are directly

competing for work. But the depressing effects on wages radiates

upwards into adjacent tiers of the labor market, as Robert Solow,

economist at Harvard has argued.16

So let me restate the tradeoff as a law: welfare has a

complementary relationship to the labor market All else being

equal, a more generous welfare system drives up wages. You can

see this “Iaw” operating everywhere in the world. In countries

where welfare and social assistance are more generous, wages

have not fallen in the 1980s and 90s. In countries where social

assistance is stingy or is being rolled back as it is in Great Britain,

the United States and Japan wages have fallen. You can also see

the law operating within the United States. Before welfare reform,

in states where AFDC benefits were lower, the wages of less

educated women were also lower. And you can also see the law

operating in the historical pattern of welfare expansion and

contraction. In the 19605, when welfare recipients mobilized in

protests, not only in the welfare centers but in the streets welfare

was liberalized, and when welfare was liberalized, wages rose.17

The Broader Shift in Social Policy

Welfare reform has fastened on the dark side of the tradeoff.

But the logic of the tradeoff also has benign possibilities. It makes

possible a range of reforms that we have not been thinking about

Neither liberals or conservatives like welfare; they t’1ink it is

demoralizing for people, and there is some truth to that, given the

demeaning conditions of welfare. But if we want to do something

about those demeaning conditions, to improve the conditions of

poor families, we have to pay attention to the tradeoff. If we

worsen welfare, families will leave the rolls, but those who remain

will fare badly, and so will many more of the working poor. But

if we improve the terms of work, raise wages, make medical

assistance available to people outside of welfare, and provide child

care, the rolls will also shrink. Those people who for whatever

reason remain on welfare won’t be worse off, and the working

poor will benefit The tradeoff can be used for good or for ill.

Moreover, although welfare is symbolically very important, it

is not just welfare that has been “reformed” to take advantage of

the dark side of the tradeoff. Unemployment benefits were also

rolled back. In the 1970s almost 70 percent of the unemployed

got unemployment insurance.18 Under the Reagan administration,

the formula which made the unemployed in a given state eligible

for long term benefits was changed, with the consequence that less

than a third of the unemployed got unemployment insurance in

the 19805.19

Social security has also been rolled back. The age of eligibility

is inching up, and rules are being relaxed to encourage people to

continue working. And of course there is powerful pressure for

more draconian changes. When social security was initiated in

the 19305, the major idea was to take older people out of the

labor market because they were competing with younger people

and undermining wages. We have forgotten that idea.

Foodstamps and Medicaid participation is shrinking. The drop

among immigrants is particularly sharp, partially because

immigrants are so susceptible to the chilling effects of welfare

reform rhetoric and welfare reform practices. And, of course, the

minimum wage has been shrinking in real terms. Despite the

recent hike, the minimum is still thirty percent below what it was

in 1968.20

Thus we can see a broad redirection of social policy, away

from income security programs that shored up the bottom of the

labor market by making people more secure, towards work

enforcement We can see it in the cuts that I have described and

the multiplication of welfare-to-work programs where social

assistance of some kind is only given on the condition that they

work, no matter what kind of work, no matter what they earn, no

matter what respect is due them in that job, no matter their rights.

We can see it in the expansion of tax benefits to employers who

hire welfare recipients and often get the grants. We can see it in

the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit program, which

now costs more than we ever spent on AFDC.21 So this is not just

a matter of saving public money. We can see it in our subsidized

housing programs and some of the Medicaid provisions. Even in

our homeless shelters, work is being made a condition of shelter.22

The Agents of Change

Well, who is doing this? The large impact of these changes on

labor markets and on wages argues that business is an important

force, hypothetically. And I think it is true that business has

mattered in the politics of welfare reform and social policy reform

more generally.

But business has rarely appeared in the debates over these

policies in its own uniform with its own hat on its head. Instead it

is business-backed think tanks and policy institutes, which are also

multiplying at the state level now that welfare has been turned

over to the states. Public intellectuals, created with business

money, have been very visible and important in the~ welfare

debate. The Heritage Foundation was the think tank of welfare

reform. These policy institutes and think tanks stimulated a sort of

astroturf movement for welfare reform-a fake grassroots

movement for welfare reform. They regularly flooded

congressional representatives with faxes, filled the press with op

eds, and their people appeared on all the talk shows. They make

sure there is a memo on the desk of every congressperson every

morning. And while both parties get business dollars, in ‘1980 and

1994, two crucial years in the evolution of these policies, business

money shifted sharply to the Republican party. So, in all of these

ways, business has been very important.

But it is also true that there is a lot of popular support for the

attack on welfare. Popular support in the form of the Christian

right, popular support in the form of anti-tax groups, as well as

groups like the National Rifle Association. And I want to say a

few words about why there is popular support for a reconfiguration

of social policy. I think the public focus on welfare was key to the

cultivation of popular animosity, antagonism, even hatred of social

policies. Even though welfare was a small program, it has big

cultural meanings, In the campaign against welfare, the images

were of welfare recipients lolling around on the stoop, drinking

beer, making babies. They were somehow to blame for the

economic tribulation of working people whose taxes paid for

welfare. And these stories were effective. There was a point in

time when the surveys showed that people thought that welfare

was absorbing most of their tax dollars. Welfare recipients were

also to blame for the cultural shocks that people in the United

States have experienced as a result of changing sexual mores, and

changing family mores. The campaign for welfare reform, in other

words, singled out poor women, most of whom were minorities,

as some how to blame for much of what was going wrong in this

country. Invoking all of the old, difficult themes in American

culture-race and sex and poverty-these women on welfare

became a kind of “Other.” Welfare practices reinforced that sort

of morality play, that political psychodrama. Welfare practices,

which punish and harass welfare recipients reinforce this

construction of the “Other.” This great drama explains why so

many people, including lots of people who are being hurt by

welfare reform because of its depressing effects on the bottom of

the labor market have joined in the national moral crusade to

discipline poor women.

Meanwhile inequality continues to increase in the United

States. Income is more polarized then it has been at any time

since the census first started collecting data.23 Welfare reform and

the panoply of policies associated with welfare reform playa role

in this polarization. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan

implied as much in the summer of 1997. He explained to

Congress that the United States’ economic performance was so

extraordinary, so exceptional, in large part because a heightened

sense of job insecurity had resulted in subdued wage gains.2

Social and fiscal policy, including welfare policy, played an

important role in the development of this insecurity.

Conclusion: The Need for a Social Movement

One final comment: we are honoring Ed Sparer today and his

ground-breaking work on legal rights for welfare recipients. Ed

Sparer understood that his work on legal rights was made

politically possible and powerful by the 1960s protest movement

of welfare recipients. Even more, he understood that it was

through upheavals from the bottom of our society that all of the

great humanizing efforts in American history have been won. He

understood that it was through protest among poor people that the

welfare system was won in the first place in the 1930s, and that

only as a consequence of protest in the 1960s was that program

expanded, liberalized, and made to obey some of precepts of the

law. I think he would have also understood that it will take a

comparable protest movement to recover some of the social

policies that were won in the past.

Question and Answer Period

What are the roles of social workers and lawyers in social change?

Piven: I think lawyers and social workers playa very important

role. What are the conditions, after all, that make protest from the

bottom possible? Social scientists puzzle over that question, and

they don1t have very specific answers. But one thing I think is

clear, that people don1t engage in politics, much less take to the

streets, unless they have hope, unless they think that they can1t be

singled out, rounded up, and suppressed, and unless they have

reason to think their protests will resonate with other groups in the

society. The way that advocates of all kinds talk and act can help

create the supportive context that makes protest possible. In 1994,

women’s groups and unions opposed welfare reform, but they did

not speak out and make their opposition public. They did not take

the issue to a public forum. Instead, they whispered to Clinton and

Leon Panetta, “don’t do this. Ifs not necessary and it’s nasty.” But

whispering did not do any good.

What they had to do was to try to mobilize public opinion. It

might not have worked but it would have given poor people more

courage because they would have known that there were powerful

allies out there. Why didn’t they do it? Beltway organizations

want to maintain their relations in the beltway. They also had a

big stake in getting Clinton re-elected. I believe it was a political

mistake and now we are living with the consequences of that


[Question regarding the anticipation of the changes in \welfare

policy and the possibility for progressive reform.]

Piven: We did anticipate that this would happen. In the first

edition of Regulating the Poor, published in 1971, we predicted

that when the protests of the 1960s subsided efforts to make relief

programs into work enforcement programs would gain

momentum, and that is just what happened did in 1970s and 80s.

This did not happen all at once. The changes in the 1996 law in

terms of legal entitlements were dramatic. But welfare grant levels

have fallen in lock step with the minimum wage since the mid

1970s. Then Clinton campaigned on the slogan “two years and off

to work.” He wanted to show his credentials as a new Democrat

as a conservative Democrat-and enraged Republicans because he

was stealing one of their best issues. They weren’t going to let him

get away with that When they took over Congress in 1994, they

showed him what two years and off to work really meant, and he

signed their bill. The historical pattern seems to me clear when

poor people are no longer a danger, no longer a threat in

American society, the humanizing reforms that we invent when

they are a threat tend to be rolled back.

Does that sound hopeless that there is no permanent,

enduring reform? Well nothing is permanent You have to keep

fighting, and that is just the way it is.

[Question regarding how the rhetoric of the tradeoff and a work

enforcement relief policy can be used to benefit the poor.]

Piven: The theory is that now that welfare recipients have becomes

workers, their moral and cultural standing is enhanced so that they

now can demand rights as workers. That certainly was the hope

in workfare organizing-and is the hope among workfare

organizers: everyone who works is entitled to a living wage,

employment security, and health insurance, etc. It is an organizing

tack, which I don’t dismiss. But it is dangerous too if as a result of

a concentration on that tack, which so far has yielded no wins, we

desert welfare recipient themselves. It would be better perhaps to

develop a hiring hall style of organizing which included recipients

who were on welfare and those that were on workfare. Work

assignments, after all, can be short lived. Indeed, tracking is

showing that jobs people get upon leaving welfare often do not last

very long.

Remember that the low wage labor market is very irregular

and the lives of poor women are very crisis ridden, partly’ because

they have such irregular daycare. So we need to experiment with

a kind of organizing that reaches people no matter where they are

temporarily-that is how the longshoremen and construction

workers organized.

[Question regarding the connection between welfare reform and

changes in the criminal justice system, such as longer sentences

and the proliferation of prisons.]

Piven: Part of the reaction, the backlash politics of the 1980s and

90s, led by professional politicians and organized business groups,

was to make appeals to ordinary people in terms of their anxieties.

One kind of anxiety had to do with crime, lithe criminal element,”

which was always thought of as constituted by minorities. And

another kind of anxiety had to do with what is happening to

families and what is happening to work. These anxieties attached

themselves quite easily to welfare recipients. Most people don’t

seem to see that building prisons and incarcerating so many is not

good for the majority of our population. Rather than going to

public schools and free clinics, public monies are going to build

prisons. These cultural appeals are very powerful and can capture

people who feel themselves in the throes of anxiety-provoking

changes, which are hard to understand and control. So we have

to worry about this cultural politics and the damage it can do to

the minimal social democratic programs that we have in the

United States.

[Question concerning the absence of the importance of education

and the development of social capital in the discussion of welfare


Piven: Well it is not because people don’t think of it 1 teach at the

City University of New York, which has been a target of budget

cutters for 23 years. Before the 1996 law, we had 14,000 welfare

recipients going to school at CUNY, learning, for example, to be

health paraprofessionals and paralegals, learning skills from which

they could earn a living wage. As consequence of welfare reform,

and the city’s implementation of welfare reform, an estimated

13,000 students were forced out of the university system because

they had to meet work requirements.25 The policies did Everything

to make the completion of their education impossible. The ‘city

was reluctant to allow them to do their work assignments on

campus, they still had to seek childcare, complete their school

work, and meet their work requirements. These welfare recipients

were trying to complete school because they knew full well that if

they did not go to school they would be stuck in a minimum wage

job for the rest of their lives. Contrary to popular belief, there is

not a ladder of occupational mobility when you start with a

minimum wage job. Instead, you end up twenty years later with

a twenty-cent increase in your wages. There is no job ladder for

most people out there without an education and marketable skills.

It is rather a job trap. Because work enforcement and numerical

decreases in the welfare rolls have so consumed the welfare

debate, the importance of education and investment in social

capital as a way of reducing poverty rather than just the rolls has

not been a focus, and this is something that should be changed.


1. Caseloads have decreased by about eighteen percent since 1994, and in

some states (e.g., Wisconsin, Indiana, Oregon) by forty percent or more. An

estimated two million women and children have left welfare. Joel F.

Handler, Welfare-to-Work: Reform or Rhetoric? 50 Admin. L Rev. 635,

647-648 (1998).

2. One of the PRWORA’s main goals is “ending the dependence of needy

parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and

marriage. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity

Reconciliation Act of 1996 § 401 (a) (2), 110 Stat at 2113 (“PRWORA”).

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani advocates putting welfare recipients to

work, even at the expense of education, because working will restore a

sense of dignity to those receiving public assistance. See David Firestone,

Praising the Wonders of Workfare, Giuliani Finds a Campaign Theme, N.Y.

Times, Mar. 20, 1997, at 3.

3. See Handler supra note 1 at 643-644. Contrary to the stereotype, more

welfare recipients are adults with small families (1.9 children, on average)

and are on welfare for relatively short periods-between two and four

years. Long-term dependency (five years or more) is rare-perhaps as low as

fifteen percent Furthermore, it turns out—again contrary to myth-that the

largest proportion of welfare recipients are connected to the p3id labor

market Many package work with welfare, and the most common route off

of welfare is via a job. In other words, most welfare recipients have little or

no problem with the work ethic.”

4. In 1996, as the welfare rolls were plummeting, the poverty rate in

America barely changed, dropping by a statistically insignificant one-tenth of

one percent See Peter B. Edelman, Recent Development: Welfare Reform

Symposium, Introduction 50 Admin. L. Rev. 579 (1998).

5. The unemployment rate was 4.0 percent in January 2000.

“We have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years’ says President Clinton.

But according to David L. Gregory, details are lost in the government’s

peculiar non-counting. For example, when one counts the underemployed,

temporary, and contingent part-time workers who now constitute

conservatively multi-millions of workers, and those the government no

longer counts, such as workers who have vanished from the official

unemployment figures because they have exhausted their unemployment

compensation insurance benefits after twenty-six weeks, the ‘official’

unemployment level may be only one-third of actual unemployment See

David L Gregory, Breaking the Exploitation of labor? Tensions Regarding

the Welfare Workforce 25 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1,4 (1997).

6. The University of Wisconsin estimates that in Milwaukee County, there

were only 25,633 jobs available for the 51,713 unemployed workers, new

labor force entrants, and W-2 recipients who would be expected to secure

private sector jobs in a year’s time. In the state overall, there was a 1.8 to

one ratio of such job seekers to jobs. See Brendan P. lynch, Welfare

Reform, Unemployment Compensation, and the Social Wage: Dismantling

Family Support Under Wisconsin’s W-2 Workfare Plan, 33 Harv.

l. Rev. 593, 605 (1998).

7. PWORA prohibits able-bodied, childless adults between the a:3es of

eighteen and fifty from collecting food stamps for more than three~ months

in any three year period unless they work at least twenty hours a week.

There is no exemption for recipients who cannot find work. See Gregory,

supra note 5; 18 Soc. Servo § 387.1 (1996).

8. Even in cities where unemployment rates are low, the jobless rate for

those seeking entry-level jobs may be twice that of other workers. For

example, one study found that anywhere from four to nine workers are in

search of entry-level jobs for every entry-level job opening. See Gregory,

supra note 5 at 18.

9. A report recently issued by New York State stated that of the 320,000

people who left welfare in the last year, 29% of those found part or full-time

work. See Benjamin Dulchin, Organizing Workfare Workers, 73 St John’s

L. Rev. 753, 757 (1999).

10. In New York, “more than 300,000 people have left the welfare rolls in

the last three years, although city officials have not followed them to see if

they have found jobs.” See Id. at 755, citing Rachel L. Swarns, Wisconsin

Welfare Chief Chosen for New York City, N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 19913, at 65

11. According to Governor Pataki, if states are required to adhere to a

federal minimum wage standard in implementing workfare, the program

will become too costly. See Gregory, supra note 5 at 16.

12. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act §


13. For example, New York City’s own records indicate that heavy

sanctions for violating the program’s strict rules have led more than a quarter

of welfare recipients to lose their welfare benefits by 1997. Paul Moses,

Rudy’s Record: Is Mayor’s Workfare Program on the Job?, Newsday (New

York, Queens Edition), June 15, 1997, at A22. See also Edelman, supra

note 4 at 583. “In Milwaukee, during late 1996 and the first part of 1997,

sanctions were being meted out at the rate of 3,000 or 4,000 a month with

error rates (for those who had the wherewithal to appeal) of around fifty

percent In New York City, in 1997, there were …. error rates of nearly

forty percent among those who appealed.”

14. If parents with minor dependent children do not work pursuant to the

federal mandate, the family will not receive the parents’ share of the family’s

monthly welfare check for one month; for the second offense, the entire

family loses its check for one month. Personal Responsibility and Work

Opportunity Reconciliation Act § 407(e){1). Benefits are lost for two months

on the third offense and for six months on the fourth offense. Id. See also

Vivian S. Toy, Tough Workfare Rules Used as Way to Cut Welfare Rolls,

N.Y. Times, Apr. 15, 1998, at A 1. In the first eight months of 1997, 16% of

workfare participants were cut from the rolls for violations ranging from

lateness to refusing work assignments.

15. For example, in New York City, at it’s current rate of job growth,

assuming every job gained in the City’s economy went to a p-person an

welfare, it would take well into the next century for the economy to absorb

all of the 470,000 adults on welfare now. See Gregory, supra note 5, at 19.

16. Robert Solow, Work and Welfare (1998). For a discussion of this

phenomenon, see Dulchin, supra note 9, at 756. “The most significant

impact of [New York City’s workfare program, the Work Experience

Program] is that in the last four years, some 24,000 City workers have been

downsized from their jobs due to WEP. WEP workers have replaced regular

workers. This is what WEP is really about 0

17. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The

Functions of Public Welfare, 356-357 (1993). ” •.. income maintenance

programs had weakened capital’s ability to depress wages and enhance

profits by the traditional means of intensifying economic insecurity,

especially by raising unemployment levels

18. Id. at 357. “In the recession of 1973-74, when unemployment rose

above 10 percent, the basic 26 week period of coverage was e.\tended to

65 weeks…. As a result, 1.\.,,0 out of three of the unemployed received

benefits during the prolonged 1973-74 recession/’

19. Id. at 360, The Green Book at 504. “Although 81 % of the

unemployed received benefits in April 1975, the proportion was driven

down to 26% in October 1987-the lowest rate since the program was first

introduced in the 19305/’

20. Id. at 353-354.

21. The Wisconsin legislature passed it’s state’s welfare reform act,

Wisconsin Works despite estimates that it would cost S66 million more

than AFDC in 1997-98. See Scanlan, The End of Welfare and

Constitutional Protections for the Poor: A Case Study of the Wisconsin

Works Program and Due Process Rights, 113 Berkeley Women’s L.J. 153,

156 (1998).

22. In the New York City workfare program, homeless adults living with

their children in City shelters must work for the City in exchange for their

welfare benefits. Advocates for the poor argued that New York City

deliberately is using workfare to deter homeless families from seeing

welfare and housing. See Gregory, supra note 5, at 18.

23. See John Cassidy, ‘Who Killed the Middle Class,” The New Yorker,

October 16,1995 at 113.

24. The Federal Reserve’s Semiannual Monetary Policy Report Before the

Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate July 22,

1997, http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocslhh/1997/July/testimonY.htm.

According to the Chairman, making employment “attractive” enough for

those currently not working could also involve upward pressures in real

wages that would trigger renewed price pressures, undermining the current


25. Edelman, supra note 4, at 587.

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