When Work Is Not Enough

When Work Is Not Enough: State and Federal Policies to Support Needy Workers

Robert P. Stoker
Laura A. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    When Work Is Not Enough
    Book Description:

    Efforts to promote work have been the centerpiece of welfare reform over the past ten years. In signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, President Bill Clinton pledged that the sweeping overhaul would "end welfare as we know it" by promoting work, responsibility, and family. To accomplish these goals, policymakers relied on two sets of tools: strict limits on eligibility for traditional benefits and a set of programs designed to make work pay. When Work Is Not Enough presents the first comprehensive analysis of the work support system. Drawing on both state and national data, Robert Stoker and Laura Wilson evaluate a broad range of policies that provide cash or in-kind benefits to low-wage workers, low-income working families, and families moving from welfare to work. These programs include minimum wage rates, Earned Income Tax Credit programs, medical assistance programs, food programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families earned income disregards, childcare grants, and rental assistance. Stoker and Wilson break new ground by examining the adequacy and coverage of the work support system in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. They address the prospects for reforming the system, as well as its impact on the politics of redistribution in the United States. Rich in analysis, When Work Is Not Enough will be essential reading for anyone interested in the impact and future of welfare reform.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9798-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Redistribution through Work
    (pp. 1-24)

    Millions of American workers live between dependency and self-sufficiency. Despite significant effort, they cannot earn enough to support themselves and their families. Policymakers have not ignored the plight of those workers who must struggle to make ends meet. A number of recent federal policy changes have multiplied and enhanced the opportunities for needy workers to combine earned income with means-tested tax and transfer benefits. State-level policy choices vary, but many state governments have also created or expanded programs to assist needy workers. These programs are referred to collectively as the work support system.¹

    The work support system serves three overlapping...

  5. Part 1. Describing the Work Support System

    • 2 Work Support Programs
      (pp. 27-63)

      To identify the programs and benefits that compose the work support system is a devilish problem for two reasons: (1) it is difficult to know what programs to exclude, because government has a broad mandate to promote and support employment opportunities; and (2) many of the same programs serve needy workers and nonworking welfare recipients. How can the work support system be distinguished from more general efforts by government to promote and support employment? How can the welfare system and the work support system be distinguished? To overcome these ambiguities, we propose a number of standards that elaborate and clarify...

    • 3 Program Design
      (pp. 64-84)

      This chapter describes and analyzes the design of work support programs. The work support system distributes benefits to needy workers and regulates their behavior by directing consumption and encouraging or requiring work. There is a tension between these goals that reflects a concern that has long been central to social policy debates in the United States: how can government assist the needy without undermining personal responsibility and creating dependency?

      Most work support programs use a small set of policy tools to distribute benefits and regulate behavior. Lester Salamon defines a policy tool as “an identifiable method through which collective action...

  6. Part 2. The Generosity of Work Support Programs

    • 4 State-Level Benefits
      (pp. 87-101)

      Needy working families can realize significant material gains by participating in work support programs. Work support benefits vary from place to place, they vary according to family size and structure, they vary according to participation in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and they vary according to work effort, earned income, and length of employment. The number of work support programs in which one participates is also a crucial factor. In this chapter we estimate the nominal income and benefits that can be gained from participating in the work support system in the fifty states and the District of Columbia....

    • 5 The Cost of Living
      (pp. 102-111)

      The analysis of nominal work support benefit generosity presented in chapter 4 neglects three important considerations: (1) there are differences in living costs across the fifty states and the District of Columbia; (2) the federal poverty standard is a single national standard and does not reflect subnational and substate variation in living costs; and (3) the federal poverty standard is not adequate as a measure of self-sufficiency. To address these concerns, in this chapter estimates of state benefit generosity are adjusted according to the cost of housing in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, and nominal income and...

    • 6 From Welfare to Work Supports
      (pp. 112-126)

      One objective of the work support system is to encourage work.¹ The work support system enhances the material well-being of needy workers by allowing them to combine means-tested tax and transfer benefits with earned income. We demonstrated in chapter 4 that the material rewards of work alone pale in comparison to the rewards of work in conjunction with work supports. We now consider, further, whether work supports encourage people to leave the welfare system to enter the workforce.

      To answer this question, we compare the benefits of welfare participation to the rewards that the work support system provides. There are...

  7. Part 3. Evaluating Work Support Performance

    • 7 Who Gets What?
      (pp. 129-144)

      The evidence presented in chapter 4 demonstrates that full-time, year-round minimum wage work combined with full participation in work support programs could result in significant material gains for needy working families. But this information does not necessarily indicate how the system actually performs. Do needy working families in fact participate in work support programs? How is program participation related to household characteristics? Do needy working families combine benefits from multiple work supports? Which programs do the most to help needy working families? In other words, who gets what from the work support system?

      This chapter evaluates the work support system...

    • 8 Racing Up to the Bottom
      (pp. 145-158)

      This chapter evaluates the performance of the work support system at the state level. This is a significant concern because states have discretion over eligibility and benefit standards for many work support programs. In addition, their administrative practices influence program participation, even in programs that are governed by national standards. The data demonstrate significant variation in state-level performance, in terms both of how widespread and extensive work support program participation is and of how generous state-level benefits are.

      The General Accounting Office (GAO) has noted that the data sets available to study poverty and program participation at the state level...

  8. Part 4. Conclusion

    • 9 A Work in Progress
      (pp. 161-180)

      Although expansion of the work support system has increased the resources devoted to helping needy working families, observers have suggested that there is room for improvement.¹ We have identified a variety of factors that limit the benefits that needy workers are likely to receive; some of these constraints reflect willful decisions by policymakers, while others appear to be unintended. In this chapter we review and discuss what we have learned about work support system performance and propose a series of reforms.

      To a great extent our research tells a story of unrealized potential. We have demonstrated that work support programs...

  9. Appendixes

    • Appendix A: Estimating State Benefit Generosity
      (pp. 181-188)
    • Appendix B: Adjusting Basic Family Budgets
      (pp. 189-191)
    • Appendix C: Who Are Needy Workers?
      (pp. 192-194)
  10. References
    (pp. 195-204)
  11. Index
    (pp. 205-214)