Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997
Welfare reform is a high-priority political issue today. In fact, however, the nation has been reforming welfare almost continuously since 1968, although the extent of reform activity and the level of interest have ebbed and flowed. In the 1960s and 1970s, welfare reform centered first on providing adequate income and alleviating poverty and second on improving employability. In contrast, current political rhetoric and public opinion concerning welfare reform clearly center on work. It is now generally accepted that work, not public financial assistance, should be the main component of a family's income, even in single-parent families.1
A variety of federal, state, and local programs have been charged with the responsibility of increasing the employment of disadvantaged individuals, including programs funded under the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program (JOBS) that served recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) through 1996. In 1996, Congress replaced both AFDC and the JOBS program with a new federal block grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The block grant gives states more authority to design welfare programs, and it may dramatically change the types of work programs operating in states. Nevertheless, the lessons from past programs intended to increase employment of welfare recipients remain very relevant.
During the 1980s, a number of states experimented with programs designed to help welfare recipients to become self-sufficient, and many of those efforts have been carefully studied. (See also the article by Blank and Blum in this journal issue.) Accumulated experience with these and earlier work-welfare programs yields important insights about welfare reform approaches, including service delivery strategies, program impacts, program management, and program performance. This article examines what can be learned from research and operational experience to inform those who will choose and implement alternative strategies for promoting employment among welfare recipients.