When the US Census Bureau announced that the number of people living in poverty had dropped in 1984, the Reagan administration was able to declare a victory. The decline proved to skeptics that a robust economy could?? reduce poverty.
But to many poverty experts, last month's announcement also confirmed what they already suspected: Poverty levels have reached a new, higher plateau in the United States.
``We all knew the booming economy would bring poverty rates down in 1984. The question was, how much?'' says An- drew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies. Because the drop in the poverty rate between 1983 and 1984 was less than one percentage point, the correlation between the economy and poverty is weaker than many economists thought. ``The new poverty is more of a structural problem,'' he says, a result of the changes in society.
He and others say they now believe that some poor people do not have the skills to compete for jobs in an increasingly service-oriented labor market. If they are ever to stand on their own, they need education and training, he says.
While a majority of Americans supports the idea of education and job training, the public has little faith that antipoverty programs actually work, a poll by the Los Angeles Times shows.
Judy Gueron, executive vice-president at Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation , says researchers have learned that it's very hard to tell who is benefiting from which programs. Studies, however, show a number of them produce modest but discernible effects in getting people off the welfare rolls -- and can be cost-effective.
Of the two programs outlined below,or wherever both have proved to be effective in putting more welfare clients to work. The differences between them are the amount of money ``invested'' and the type of welfare client who takes part, Dr. Gueron says. JOB SEARCH preliminary findings based on a San Diego program) Target group: All people who apply for welfare; a mandatory program. Description: Welfare clients participate in workshops, where they learn to write r'esum'es, look for jobs, and contact employers. (Those who fail to find work after the workshops are assigned jobs, and for three months they work without pay to ``earn'' their welfare benefits.) Result: Of those who attended a job-search workshop, 39 percent had jobs a year later. For people who did not attend the workshops, only 33 percent found work. Effect on welfare: After one year there was an 8.5 percent savings in welfare benefits Cost: $200 to $1,000 per participant for a three-week program (including administrative costs). SUPPORTED WORK: findings based on experimental programs at 10 sites in the US) Mothers on welfare for at least three years (about 15 percent of the welfare caseload); a voluntary program. Women undergo 12 months of well-structured, closely supervised work in jobs ranging from gas-station attendants to day-care personnel. Two years after the program ended, 49 percent of the women who had been in supported work had jobs. Of women who had not been in supported work, 41 percent had jobs. Two years after the program ended, women who underwent supported work were receiving $52 a month less than women who had not. $8,000 per participant for a 12-month program.