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Reviewed by:
  • Welfare, the Working Poor, and Labor
  • Adrienne Valdez
Welfare, the Working Poor, and Labor. Edited by Louise Simmons. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc, 2004. 172 pp. $24.95 paper.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), commonly known as "welfare reform," was passed by Congress in 1996. Supporters call PRWORA a success because of continuously declining welfare rolls. However, do declining welfare rolls lead to declining poverty rates? Politicians love showcasing success stories, but according to several authors in Louise Simmons' anthology, Welfare, the Working Poor, and Labor, these success stories are the exception, not the rule. These authors provide data showing that reducing welfare rolls has not reduced poverty.

One article makes a case that when welfare recipients find work, it is not due to the success of the law, but to a robust economy. Another article observes that while proponents measure the success of PRWORA by the lower numbers of welfare recipients, other measures like "reducing poverty and inequality, creating jobs for the poor, and increasing wages to lift low-wage workers out of poverty . . . have not been included as policy goals."

Simmons' book is an eclectic collection of ten well-written, well-researched, interesting, and compelling articles which provide a range of insightful viewpoints and offer strategies for dealing with the problems of poverty, low-wage workers, and welfare reform. While not all the articles may be of interest to the casual reader, even readers unfamiliar with welfare and poverty issues will be able to understand the data and arguments presented.

Article topics include: the politics behind welfare reform and the economic environment that welfare recipients and low-wage workers face; the impact of privatization on low-wage workers' ability to maintain a living wage and job stability; the uses and abuses of temp agencies by employers; organized labor and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA); and the impact of welfare reform on caseworkers.

Additional articles discuss how labor could contribute to these issues including an analysis of living wage campaigns, a discussion on social justice issues in today's hostile political climate, and a call to labor unions to organize low-wage workers.

This book makes a convincing argument on why organized labor should be involved in the issues of poverty, welfare and low-wage workers. There is a theme that runs throughout the book that focuses on the need for organized labor to be part of shaping the solutions and how organized labor can affect welfare policies and help welfare recipients who have entered the workforce.

For instance, Simmons points out that the jobs current and former [End Page 104] welfare recipients usually find are low-wage with few, if any, benefits, and no job security. She contends that low-wage workers and labor need each other. Labor needs to organize new members as part of its own revitalization plan, and low-wage workers need to be unionized to stabilize their job security, improve their benefits, and increase their wages.

Simmons' book is worth a read for those interested in the problems of welfare and poverty being neglected by welfare reform proponents. In addition, the book makes a compelling case for the common intersections between welfare issues and the goals of organized labor.

Adrienne Valdez
University of Hawaii — West Oahu


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 104-105
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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