Workfare benefits modest but lasting. State programs prove worth, study shows

For the first time welfare reformers have strong evidence that the beneficial effects of experimental state programs like workfare though modest are long lasting. A new study, made public today, makes this apparent.

``We now have information which tells us about the long-term effect of these programs,'' says Judith Gueron. Data collected in four states, she says, suggest that the modestly higher wages that former welfare recipients generally earned after completing these programs continued during the three years of the study.

Dr. Gueron is president of the Manpower Development Research Corporation, which in recent years has examined programs in eight states, and which conducted the most recent study.

Previous research had followed recipients for no more than 18 months.

This information is timely for Congress as it wrestles with welfare reform. Later this week the Senate and House are likely to name members of a joint welfare-reform conference committee.

This panel will have the very tricky job of resolving quite different Senate and House welfare-reform bills in a way that will win support from liberal Democrats, moderate Republicans, and the White House.

The new study supports previous conclusions that, in Gueron's words, ``there is no quick-fix solution'' to the current national welfare problems. Rather, she and other experts say, experimental state welfare-reform programs thus far studied that require participants to work yield modest results.

``Workfare effectiveness,'' Douglas Besharov says bluntly, ``has been overblown. ... [It] is a modest tool that can be used modestly to reduce welfare costs and rolls.'' Mr. Besharov is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Results of the new study showed that, on average, women who had participated in the programs earned $300 to $500 a year more than those who had not: ``I think that's notable,'' Gueron says.

In addition there were modest savings in state welfare expenditures.

Programs studied by the Manpower Development Research Corporation generally provided low-to-moderate amounts of assistance to welfare recipients in finding work.

At the same time, what Gueron calls ``a key question'' remains unanswered, and probably will for years. Namely, how effective are the relatively newer state programs, as in California and Massachusetts, which provide substantial sums of money for training and educating welfare recipients, with the aim of getting them off welfare?

The Senate and House welfare-reform measures, like these two state programs, contain large training and education components.

Gueron's group is studying the California program, which began only last October; others are similarly tracking the Massachusetts experiment. Results of the programs, however, will not be known for years.

Meanwhile, congressional conferees will have to grapple with the question of how much training and education are appropriate and cost-effective. Even if politics could be siphoned off, it would be a challenging task.

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