Thursday, May 25, 2006

Those Left Behind by W-2

Last week the Chaplin Hall Center for Children released a study on Wisconsin’s Welfare Reform (hat tip to the SpiceBlog). The New York Times originally reported on the study last week. The report identifies numerous longer term problems with the well known W-2 program.

The study followed 1,075 Milwaukee County family heads who applied for assistance between March and August 1999. Applicants at each of the six W-2 agency sites located in Milwaukee County are represented in the study. Some of the participants of the study were re-interviewed in 2001-2202 and in 2003. The sample was largely female (95.9%), African American (81.5%), and had never been married (79.5%). All participants were also caring for at least one child.

A few interesting finding from the study:

*Despite the “work first” approach, few of the applicants worked consistently.

*Participation in W-2 did not cure poverty. Four years after seeking help, the median participant incomes actually decreased.

*Three out of four of the participants had instances of material hardship (usually problems paying for housing and food).

*More than two out of five of the participants were investigated for child abuse or neglect from 1999 to 2005.

*Nearly a third of the participants suffered from depression while in the program.

*Twenty two percent experienced other mental health problems since starting the program and twenty two percent stated that their ability to work was limited by their own disability.

*A child was removed from the homes of one in six participants during the time of the study.

If success was merely measured by the numbers of people taken off of the welfare roles, some could consider W-2 a success. The problem, according to this study, is that it left behind those who were most in need. Hopefully we will learn from this data and realize that we should be focused on people and every day struggles, and not simple numbers and figures.

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