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Off Welfare, Into Motivation

WILLING WORKERS

By James L. TysonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 28, 1997



CHICAGO

Out of work. No fixed daily schedule. Living hand-to-mouth on public aid. All this makes for a high-risk employee, right?

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Wrong, say experts on welfare.

In fact, they say, a sense of desperation drives many former welfare recipients to excel in a new job.

By some estimates, all but about 25 percent of the 3.5 million adults on public aid are worthy employees, with half of them requiring some counseling or training.

"Our core belief is that, when given a fair shot, welfare recipients will turn out to be real quality employees," says Eli Segal, president of the Welfare to Work Partnership.

Dawn Runge, a single mother and former welfare recipient, personifies the payoffs.

"Public aid is a motivating force for me, because I realize I never want to go back on it," says Ms. Runge.

She was laid off in December 1995 from a $30,000 job helping to manage a shoe store in Waukegan, Wis. Soon after, she learned she was pregnant.

Public aid, plus the help of friends and relatives, pulled Runge through her initial job search, the birth of her daughter last September, and neglect by her daughter's father.

Then, when United interviewed job applicants at an employment agency in Chicago's low-income Austin neighborhood, she landed a reservations job. In March she started work.

"United says I have to work at telephone reservations for a year before I can transfer in the company. You can bet I am counting down on that year," she says, holding her telephone headset in a fist. "I want to step up," she adds: "I've never been one to put a ceiling over me."