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Putting Poor People to Work

How the Work-First Idea Eroded College Access for the Poor

Kathleen M. Shaw, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Christopher Mazzeo, Jerry A. Jacobs

Publication Year: 2006

Today, a college education is increasingly viewed as the gateway to the American Dream—a necessary prerequisite for social mobility. Yet recent policy reforms in the United States effectively steer former welfare recipients away from an education that could further their career prospects, forcing them directly into the workforce where they often find only low-paying jobs with little opportunity for growth. In Putting Poor People to Work, Kathleen Shaw, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Christopher Mazzeo, and Jerry A. Jacobs explore this troubling disconnect between the principles of “work-first” and “college for all.” Using comprehensive interviews with government officials and sophisticated data from six states over a four year period, Putting Poor People to Work shows how recent changes in public policy have reduced the quantity and quality of education and training available to adults with low incomes. The authors analyze how two policies encouraging work—the federal welfare reform law of 1996 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998—have made moving people off of public assistance as soon as possible, with little regard to their long-term career prospects, a government priority. Putting Poor People to Work shows that since the passage of these “work-first” laws, not only are fewer low-income individuals pursuing postsecondary education, but when they do, they are increasingly directed towards the most ineffective, short-term forms of training, rather than higher-quality college-level education. Moreover, the schools most able and ready to serve poor adults—the community colleges—are deterred by these policies from doing so. Having a competitive, agile workforce that can compete with any in the world is a national priority. In a global economy where skills are paramount, that goal requires broad popular access to education and training. Putting Poor People to Work shows how current U.S. policy discourages poor Americans from seeking out a college education, stranding them in jobs with little potential for growth. This important new book makes a powerful argument for a shift in national priorities that would encourage the poor to embrace both work and education, rather than having to choose between the two.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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CONTENTS

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pp. v-

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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pp. vii-

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the assistance and support of many people and organizations. We would first like to thank Atlantic Philanthropies, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation for their generous support of our work. ...

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CHAPTER ONE. INTRODUCTION

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pp. 1-17

In the 1996 commencement address he delivered at Princeton University, President Bill Clinton declared, “It is clear that America has the best higher education system in the world and that it is the key to a successful future in the twenty-first century. It is also clear that because of costs and other factors ...

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CHAPTER TWO. THE EMERGENCE OF THE WORK-FIRST PRESCRIPTION

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pp. 18-36

Where did “work-first” come from? How did this particular philosophy gain such overwhelming acceptance and power among policymakers at all levels and with the general public? How did it displace the human-capital ideas that animated much of social policymaking in the late twentieth century and are ...

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CHAPTER THREE. WELFARE REFORM AND ACCESS TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION:NATIONAL TRENDS

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pp. 37-63

When examined within a broader context of beliefs about higher education and its role in American society, it is quite remarkable that federal welfare reform so clearly discourages access to college. Postsecondary education leads to a wide array of individual and collective benefits, both monetary and nonmonetary. Scholars have found that postsecondary education is linked to ...

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CHAPTER FOUR. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF WELFARE REFORM:CONSISTENCY AND CHANGE

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pp. 64-96

The move to “end welfare as we know it” was an action formally initiated by the federal government and signed by President Bill Clinton over the objections of his two chief advisers, Mary Jo Bane and David Ellwood.1" This new approach toward serving America’s poor was intended to be enacted across ...

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CHAPTER FIVE. THE WORKFORCE INVESTMENT ACT:INVESTMENT OR DISINVESTMENT?

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pp. 97-123

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and the 1996 welfare-reform legislation (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) are inextricably linked by an endorsement of the “work-first” ideology and a rejection of the human-capital narrative. As such, the full impact ...

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CHAPTER SIX. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF WIA:DOES THE RHETORIC MATCH THE REALITY?

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pp. 124-140

Public policies are driven by political ideas, goals, and rhetoric, and the Workforce Investment Act is no exception. As explained in the last chapter, WIA contains two major philosophies: a work-first approach, which is designed to foster immediate attachment to the labor market without much ...

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CHAPTER SEVEN. THE POWER OF WORK-FIRST: IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE TRENDS

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pp. 141-156

Julie is a twenty-year-old single white mother—demographically speaking, a typical welfare recipient.1 She has a daughter just under two years old. In addition to working fifteen hours a week, she is enrolled in the local community college where she is pursuing an associate’s degree in education. Julie ...

NOTES

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pp. 167-180

REFERENCES

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pp. 181-187

INDEX

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pp. 199-216


E-ISBN-13: 9781610444965
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871547750
Print-ISBN-10: 0871547759

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Public welfare -- United States.
  • People with social disabilities -- Education (Higher) -- United States.
  • Poor -- Education (Higher) -- United States.
  • United States. Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
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