Welfare Entrepreneurs

Five-hundred-dollar loans have begun to take Americans off welfare and into productive self-employment. They, along with millions in poverty around the world, should benefit from the Microcredit Summit expected to draw thousands of partisans of the poor to Washington next month (Feb. 2-4).

Years ago no one thought of Americans needing the tiny, three-figure loans then being initiated for third-world microenterprises - often one-person ventures like flower-selling. But in recent years needy US would-be entrepreneurs have received this kind of microcredit from organizations such as New England's nonprofit Working Capital (loan repayment above 98 percent). Now a number of states are seeking to allow such entrepreneurship under the welfare-to-work legislation that sooner or later pushes people off state support.

Big business is not absolved from providing training and jobs, as urged by President Clinton, for those losing benefits. But at least a small percentage of those on welfare appear to have all the qualifications except money to start small businesses for themselves. And some are obtaining loans as microentrepreneurs, surviving the marketplace risks, and getting off the rolls.

The Microcredit Summit, under US corporate and foundation sponsorship, seeks to ensure that 100 million of the world's poorest families are receiving microcredit loans by 2005.

Mr. Clinton has long favored microcredit. An appearance by him at the summit would be in keeping with his pledges to make the best of the welfare revision he signed into law over protest by many in his own Democratic Party. He would be joining four heads of state already on the schedule, along with Mrs. Clinton, who has supported summit planning.

Meanwhile, Treasury secretary Robert Rubin is inviting finance ministers from various countries. And representatives of the World Bank, Women's World Banking, Foundation for International Community Assistance, UN Development Program, Grameen Bank (Bangladesh), and other organizations are on board.

Macro good wishes to all.

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