NLA Discussion: Adult Literacy and Welfare Reform
edcivic at libertynet.org
Thu Feb 5 16:58:25 EST 1998
Last December, I posted an announcement
concerning a new coalition that we were
building here in Philadelphia called JOIN--
Jobs and Opportunity to Improve Neighborhoods.
It has brought together leaders in
community organizations, human service agencies,
adult literacy programs, and advocacy groups
around a six point program that stresses
adult literacy (especially GED programs),
reverse commuting, quality child care,
public service jobs, and living wage legislation
as the systems we need to put into place
in moving welfare recipients to work. Significant
expansion of adult literacy is central
to our agenda, since it is clear that without
a high school diploma or GED, a person
is totally shut out of most jobs in the new
The article that follows appeared in the
Philadelphia Inquirer on February 4th. It
represents the first shot in the ongoing
campaign we will now wage for the JOIN
Agenda. Note again how much I stress
the literacy gap in the piece. We're going
to make this central to our efforts.
What's the literacy gap between jobs
opening up in your regional economy
and the education attainment of people
in your community? How many people
on welfare don't have high school
diplomas, or even high school? Closing
this gap is the primary challenge facing
adult educators in confronting welfare
reform over the next several years.
Future of the City
> By Ed Schwartz
> Given the visible turnaround of Philadelphia's economy, there is
now great hope that the next five years will bring us unparalleled growth,
high employment and economic recovery.
> But the worst may not be over.
> As Mayor Rendell himself is warning, the problem is welfare reform. Welfare
"downsizing" would be a better name for it. On March 3 of last year, the state
Department of Public Welfare sent notices to welfare recipients throughout
Pennsylvania saying that they needed to start looking for work because in five
years they would be cut off forever.
> Imagine what would happen if Ed Rendell sent letters to the 26,000
people who work for the City of Philadelphia, saying, "There is now a
on city employment. You have five years to get another job." All hell would
> Yet that is exactly what 72,000 welfare recipients living in Philadelphia
received from the Welfare Department last year -- seven times the number of
people who were laid off at the Navy Yard. Even the mayor is predicting
that by 2002, there may be as many as 38,000 Philadelphia households
-- including 76,000 children -- with no income at all.
> Of course, we are all reassured by both President Clinton and Pennsylvania's
welfare secretary, Feather Houston, that welfare downsizing is going quite
well. The President boasts that welfare rolls are at their lowest level since
the 1970s. The secretary reports that the Pennsylvania caseload has dropped by
10,000, half of those in Philadelphia alone. Not to worry, right?
> Not exactly. Start with the 72,000 households on welfare in Philadelphia as
of March 3, 1997. The state can exempt 20 percent of this group from the
five-year limit -- roughly 14,400 -- for medical problems and similar
hardships. This leaves us with 57,600 adult recipients in Philadelphia to be
downsized over the five-year period -- an average of about 11,500 a year.
Given this timetable, the reduction of only 5,000 since last March is less
of what we need. At this rate, by 2002, we will end up with 32,000 households
in the city without jobs or income but with 76,000 children to support.
> There's an added difficulty that, again, has been largely ignored. It's
I would call the literacy gap.
> According to the 1990 Census, more than 400,000 Philadelphia residents over
18 don't have high school diplomas. Of these, 120,000 never got beyond the
ninth grade. Not surprisingly, most welfare recipients are in this position.
Nearly every census tract with more than 500 welfare households has at least
1,300 adults without high school diplomas. Given that most of the 39,000 jobs
gained in the region last year came in fields such as business services and
finance, which require at least a high school diploma or a GED, where are all
these recipients supposed to work?
> Inexplicably, closing the literacy gap is not even on the welfare reform
agenda at this time. Quite the opposite:
> [ * ] Last year, the federal welfare reform act required all
recipients to undertake an intensive, eight-week job search. This could take
place at any point during the year. In Pennsylvania, however, caseworkers
forced recipients to quit training programs if these conflicted with their
search on the schedule. Some were even pulled out of training a few weeks
before they might have graduated. The welfare department blames Washington for
the job search requirement, but the onus of implementation lies with it.
> [ * ] By 1999, all recipients must be engaged in a "work-related"
activity for 20 hours a week. Under the federal law, however, they can use
education to meet this requirement for no more than one year. Forget two-year
GED or community college associate degree programs. At a time when President
Clinton tells us that he wants every American to be able to go to college, his
administration is refusing to help adult recipients spend two years finishing
> [ * ] Pennsylvania spends just $8 million on adult literacy, an average of
$400 a student. This hasn't increased more than 5 percent since 1990, despite
huge budget surpluses in Harrisburg. The result is that only about 1,800
Philadelphia residents are awarded GEDs each year -- far short of the number
who are going to need them. The $23 million in the Governor's new budget for
"job training for welfare recipients" is the state's match to a federally
funded program whose current drafts don't even define the literacy gap as part
of the problem.
> Yet none of this seems to faze the decision-makers.
> What should we do? The federal government ought to permit recipients to
participate in education and training programs for at least two years.
Harrisburg needs to triple its budget for adult literacy. Philadelphia
ought to aim at producing at least 5,000 GEDs every year. We all need to
public service jobs program envisaged in State Sen. Vincent Hughes' bill for
recipients who will not find work in any other way. Apart from the public
service jobs bill, the rest of these proposals aren't even under
> In December, a broad coalition of community organizations and human
service agencies called JOIN -- Jobs and Opportunity to Improve Neighborhoods
-- came together to advance this agenda, along with reverse commuting, quality
child care, and a municipal living wage bill. But aside from reverse
and increased support for child care, even welfare secretary Feather Houston
has refused to support it.
> We have a problem, Houston, and we need to start dealing with it now
before it's too late.
Ed Schwartz, Institute for the Study of Civic Values, 1218 Chestnut St.,
Rm. 702, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107 215-238-1434 edcivic at libertynet.org
The ISCV home page can be reached at
Also check out "Neighborhoods Online" at
"Citizenship is the American ideal. There may be an army of actualities
opposed to that ideal, but there is no ideal opposed to that ideal."
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