Poor people need to, want to, and will work. That simple truth was made clear in the recent book Making Ends Meet – How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work by Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein (Russell Sage Foundation, New York. 1997).
Over a six-year period, Edin and Lein gained the confidence of and conducted in-depth interviews with nearly 400 single mothers either on welfare or employed in low-wage jobs. They found that welfare supports, including housing and health care subsidies, were not enough to pay rent, buy clothes and other necessities, and provide food for themselves and their children without some sort of work, often off-the-books, and help from family and friends. Edin and Lein also found that low-wage working single mothers were worse off than those on assistance, because of the loss of subsidies, especially food stamps and health care, and the need to spend on childcare.
We can be hopeful that these findings, told in human terms and backed up by solid quantitative and analytical research, and the sincerity of at least some states to help people become self-sufficient, will create programs that will really help people succeed. But to the many people who work in nonprofit, community-based organizations (CBOs) providing training, this comes as no news at all. They have always known people want to and need to work to make ends meet. The challenge has been in finding the right mix of training opportunities needed to satisfy the other side of the equation, the employers.
In this issue, we look at some programs that have succeeded in providing appropriate training for low-skilled people while linking their graduates to jobs in the local and regional economies. If we are to turn around poor communities, we have to follow the lead of these programs. We have to create meaningful training that provides both hard and soft skills, we have to re-link low-income communities with the kind of informal and formal “networks” that helped previous generations locate jobs, we have to provide ongoing support and training so that those jobs can be held, and we have to encourage employers to participate as full partners in the process.
Of course, poor communities didn’t become so accidentally. They are the result of decades of public policies and private disinvestment anchored by fear, greed, and racism. Overcoming these policies often, if not always, requires more than the good will of corporations and governments and the hard work of CBOs. Overcoming entrenched attitudes and politics require organizing and engagement in the civic and political spheres.
How do we do that? Around what issues do we organize? To what extent should we embrace organizing around identity or class? Gary Delgado and John Atlas explore these central issues. Delgado argues that community organizing needs to change, to become more open to the diverse array of people involved in progressive activism, if it is to make significant strides. Atlas highlights several recent books that point to the common interests of working Americans of all races. Both authors offer important perspectives meant to help community organizers persevere in the years ahead.
This past October, Charles Duke III joined us as production editor. Charles brings to us years of experience in magazine publishing as well as a strong interest and commitment to community development. Beginning next issue, associate editor Winton Pitcoff becomes our Washington correspondent. His presence in DC will allow us to provide more timely and in-depth information on policy and legislative issues both in the pages of Shelterforce and on our website.
In keeping with our tradition of trying to put as much as possible into each issue, our last issue, devoted to organizing, was packed – so much so that I did not have the space to adequately thank our guest editor Randy Stoecker. Randy, whose article in Shelterforce #87 continues to generate discussion, is a tireless advocate of community organizing and helping academics become effective partners with CBOs. He is also the moderator of COMM-ORG, an excellent web site that links academics with community organizers. Thanks Randy.
During 1998, Shelterforce has grown in many ways. As we close the year, I want to thank all of our supporters, especially the Ford, Surdna, and Annie E. Casey Foundations, and First Union, Citicorp, and PNC Banks for their ongoing assistance, commitment, and encouragement. I’d like to especially thank our readers, including the members and affiliates of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Your comments and recommendations have been invaluable to us as we sharpen our editorial content to meet your needs.
We hope you begin 1999 prepared to meet all the challenges that may come your way.