Off the welfare treadmill

There's no easy route out of the welfare quagmire. Chris Butler and Annastein Lewis can tell you that. Both are native Chicagoans, high school drop-outs, and mothers without financial support from spouses. Both cashed welfare checks for nearly a decade. Then both signed up for training programs to enter the work world.

They now have full-time jobs -- but their wallets aren't any fatter than when they were on welfare.

Is work worth the effort? They both say yes, giving the 9-to-5 life style a solid vote of confidence, for two reasons. First, they simply like to work. They also want their collective brood of 13 to learn the work ethic from a parent.

Although their approach to work isn't exactly Horatio Alger wedded to Pollyanna, it is positive -- albeit waning a bit when the last of the macaroni is gone or a doctor's bill arrives in the mail.

Ms. Butler and Ms. Lewis attribute their back-to-work status to the training programs they enrolled in. Before these programs entered their lives, they received Aid to Families with Dependent Children. And they'll both tell you they're glad to have walked away from AFDC, which today carries 10.8 million people on its rolls, approximately 7.2 million of these being children. Funded jointly by federal and state dollars, AFDC paid out approximately $15 billion in 1985 to recipients living in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and United States territories.

In recent years, American cities have seen the rise of a special ``underclass'' in which the welfare way of life is passed down from generation to generation. It's this segment that is a prime target for Project Chance, the new Illinois program that trained Butler. Lewis took another avenue out of welfare by enrolling in the 11-year-old Training Inc., a nonprofit program under the YMCA umbrella and supported by federal, state, and private funds. For both of them, the training programs offered a step out of poverty.

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