Welfare Recipients Need Schooling, Job Aid, Study Shows
By Clare Nolan, Senior Writer
WASHINGTON - To prepare welfare recipients for 21st century careers, states need to expand their welfare-to-work services beyond transportation and child care to include education, careful job placement and subsidized training, a new study by the Educational Testing Service has found. Without additional education and skills training, women moving from welfare to work will continue to struggle in jobs paying poverty-level wages, the report says. ETS, the corporation that directs the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for college admissions, unveiled details of Getting Down to Business: Matching Welfare Recipients' Skills to Jobs That Train at a Washington, D.C. news conference Wednesday.
"Getting a job in the old days and working your way up was possible," said Anthony Carnevale, who, with Donna Desrochers, wrote the report. "It isn't possible anymore."
The new service economy, Carnevale said, places a premium on education. "People need work skills, showing up on time and all that," he said. "But the [wage] ceiling comes very rapidly [for those with no education]."
Carnevale and Desrochers argue that a majority of recipients can boost their job prospects at relatively low cost to the states.
One semester of coursework could be the difference between living below poverty and living above it. Additional education would enable two-thirds of welfare recipients to find jobs paying $10,000 more than the positions they are eligible for without the help, the report says.
Carnevale acknowledged there is little political will to return to a welfare system based primarily on education. As an alternative, he said, states should steer these women toward office jobs, where employers offer training. He also recommends states subsidize training in fields such as health care, where better skills mean advancement and higher wages.
In making these recommendations, the authors challenge some basic tenets of many states' new welfare programs: that recipients should take whatever jobs are available and that time on the job whatever the job will lead to higher earnings.
The national welfare overhaul will add one million new job seekers to the labor force by 2006, the study says. In the same period, most new jobs will require skills beyond what most welfare recipients possess. The authors estimate less than 20 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require basic skills or below.
ETS compiled its results from the National Adult Literacy Survey, an assessment of the reading, writing and math capabilities of 26,000 American adults. NASL is financed by ETS, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. This smaller study looked at data for 1,600 female welfare recipients within that larger group.
The report divides the nation's welfare recipients into three categories based on their skills. Thirty-two percent of recipients, it says, qualify as competent or advanced; These women already possess the fundamental skills that, with some additional education, would enable them to move out of poverty for good. These women would also benefit most from careful career placement, the report says, because they are most eligible for on-the-job training slots.
The next third, 37 percent, have the skills to get a job, but not the competence to move up the career ladder. As a result, they are often stuck in jobs offering zero training. The report estimates these women, with a semester of education, could move into jobs paying $20,000 to $30,000 a year.
The remaining third, however, require a great deal more help. ETS estimates 31 percent of the welfare caseload possess skills no better than those of the average high-school dropout. The report finds that improving the skills of this group will require a substantial investment. They may need more than two full years of school before realizing any appreciable improvement in job readiness or competence.