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Declining economy challenges welfare reform



Published: Wed, January 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Democrats and Republicans were happily clapping each other and themselves on the back as they legislated reforms to end welfare as we knew it. And while the rising economy was floating even the leaky boats of the nation's least employable citizens, those reforms looked as if they were working. But the economic tide has turned, and the families eliminated from the welfare rolls are the first to be stranded on some rather barren shores. What's more, the federal budget surplus has given way to a massive budget deficit. The challenge now for state and federal lawmakers is to figure out a way to bring back the safety nets that were torn down with such zeal.

Of course, no one should want a return to the old system that made it more profitable to remain on welfare than to find gainful employment. But nevertheless, as increasing numbers of companies declare bankruptcy or report substantial financial losses, it's not surprising to read of thousands of Americans losing their jobs almost every day.

Limited benefits: While many employees get unemployment compensation or receive severance packages from their employers, lower-level workers are the least likely to have enough to last until the economy recovers. This is especially true of those who have moved from welfare to work but haven't worked long enough to qualify for unemployment, those who have been making do with part-time jobs and those whose pay was too low to lift them and their families above the poverty level.

In December, Ohio's unemployment rate was at 4.8 percent, below the national average. But as Tom Hayes, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, reported recently, & quot;Manufacturing employment continued to fall and remained well below a year ago." Former manufacturing workers may have no alternatives open to them.

Other than the welfare system, where can they turn when their unemployment benefits and personal resources run out? Likewise, what choices do the one-time welfare-to-work successes have when their jobs no longer exist?

President Bush plans to address the welfare problem by asking Congress to set aside at least $100 million for experimental programs aimed at getting single welfare mothers to marry. Marriage alone -- especially to abusive or irresponsible partners -- is of questionable value to single mothers or to the nation's overall economic health.

As it is, one-sixth of Ohio's children received some sort of welfare benefits in 2001, and 10 Appalachian counties had more than a quarter of their children in poverty and on public assistance, -- even in two-parent families.

The answer is to get the economy back on a track where jobs are being created, not lost.




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