Shelter Shorts

From Welfare to Unemployment

      Challenging the theories that tougher welfare restrictions impel people to find jobs and that the recent decline in welfare rolls indicates just that, a survey of New York State residents who left welfare between July 1996 and March 1997 found that only 29 percent reported income in the following quarter.

The survey, conducted by the New York State Department of Social Services, tracked 480,000 individuals who lost Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or Home Relief subsidies. The survey relied on quarterly wage reports from employers to determine who among former welfare recipients had found jobs. The survey didn’t distinguish between those who found part-time versus full-time employment, or those who found temporary work, nor did it take into account people working off the books, moving out of state, or otherwise circumventing the state’s tracking methods.

Welfare reform activists cite the figures as evidence that workfare and similar programs that impose tough restrictions and fail to consider the availability of jobs or individuals’ preparedness for jobs are more likely to drive people deeper into poverty than toward self-sufficiency. This was the first effort in New York State to determine what happens to people after they leave the welfare rolls.

“Up to now, there have been claims and counterclaims about the success of welfare reform, but there has been no data with which to evaluate those claims,” said Marcia Meyers, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University who specializes in welfare policy, in a New York Times article [3/23/98]. “This really gives us the first glimpse of life after welfare, and it is alarming.”

 

Walls Fall in CT

      At a time when enclosed communities are proliferating around the country-in low-income and wealthy neighborhoods alike-the Bridgeport, Connecticut, City Council recently ordered the removal of street barriers designed to inhibit drug traffic in the town’s predominately Hispanic East Side. Though some residents agreed that the barriers had helped deter crime, many objected to the unsightly concrete blocks, which they felt marked the neighborhood as a troubled area and decreased legitimate commerce and services.

“It’s costing the community more than it’s helping,” said Lydia Martinez, a Bridgeport councilwoman and East Side resident who initially voted for the barriers but led the fight to remove them. Since the barriers were first erected in 1993, at least 14 businesses have closed and others have suffered steep losses, according to The New York Times [2/6/98]. The now graffiti-marked barriers have also slowed street cleaning and snow removal, fire fighting, and deliveries.

Oscar Newman, credited with the “defensible space” concept that proposes designing “mini-neighborhoods” and closing certain streets to deter crime, says many communities use these methods the wrong way. Newman advocates designing gates or barriers with community participation, and avoiding the use of cheap, ugly concrete slabs or barrels.

In communities such as Five Oaks in Dayton, Ohio, [see Shelterforce # 93] where Newman worked with city officials and residents to adapt his methods, street closures have been cited as successes. But some observers point to other factors in Bridgeport-such as federal, state, and local investigations eliminating two major gangs-that have contributed to a decrease in crime.

With the barriers gone, some fear a potential re-escalation of crime. But Martinez and others who favor removing the barriers say the police department, which recently added 80 officers, should instead increase street patrols and provide equal policing for all Bridgeport neighborhoods.

Outward Bound

    Forty-seven percent of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, up from 37 percent in 1975. In comparison, the number of Americans living in cities stayed at 31 percent during that time period. Along with this shift has come greater segregation, with minorities and low-income families remaining in the cities, leaving whites and upper-income families-who tend to vote more and give more money to political candidates-to gain an even more disproportionately powerful voice in Congress.

 

Shelterforce is a nonprofit publication, published by the National Housing Institute. We are not beholden to a particular program, theory, approach, or constituency. We are dedicated to being useful to our readers and to fostering strong, vibrant, just, healthy places for everyone.

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