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Welfare Reform: Just Who's Going to Create All the Jobs? : Region will be pressed in struggle to put the poor to work

August 27, 1996

The new federal welfare law will require millions of welfare recipients to seek jobs. Work is a cornerstone of the reform--it drives it--and a job is the best antidote for welfare dependence. But will there be enough jobs to satisfy the huge new need?

Though no one can predict the fluctuations of the economy, it's a safe bet that many poor parents won't be able to find a job within two years, the new federal deadline. Hardest hit will be areas like urban Southern California, with a high poverty rate and high concentrations of immigrants (who themselves are losing government benefits) competing for jobs with welfare recipients and the unemployed.

The surging U.S. economy has created more than 1.5 million jobs this year. This is cheering, but insufficient to meet the needs of young people seeking to join the work force, the nation's 7.4 million unemployed, the 4.5 million adults now on welfare and the unknown number of immigrants.

Los Angeles County created 61,000 new jobs last year and is expected to create an estimated 87,500 this year, many of them low-skilled and entry-level. This is a sharp upswing, but still not enough to satisfy the demand.

Given the intense competition among job seekers, it's hard to imagine that many employers would, without incentives, choose applicants with little or no job experience or training.

If welfare recipients do not make the transition from government check to paycheck, their families will suffer. States too will suffer. By 1997, one in four adults who on welfare must be working at least 20 hours a week or the state will lose federal block grant funds. By 2002, half of adult recipients must have jobs or the state will lose additional dollars. These are high hurdles for California, the home of millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, and where 2.7 million people receive welfare. In Los Angeles County, 881,000 received Aid to Families with Dependent Children. In Orange County the AFDC recipients number 114,000.

The job scramble will also include poor adults without dependent children who get food stamps now but starting Jan. 1 will lose them for all but a few months a year. (Noncitizens will lose them altogether.)

There is still time to fix some of the most obvious flaws in this welfare reform, because much of the program won't take effect until July 1. Clinton administration officials promise that if the president is reelected he will use his new line-item veto authority for leverage to gain changes in the law. But campaign promises are far from guarantees.

Welfare reform should rightly emphasize work, but the requirement that recipients work is hollow if jobs are not to be had. This is the second leg of the reform. A rising economy will help, but government still may have to bridge the gap.

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