Members of working-class families make up seventy-five percent of the Americans who rely on aid programs such as Medicaid.
Members of working-class families make up seventy-five percent of the Americans who rely on aid programs such as Medicaid. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

Never mind welfare to work. Today's world for low-wage earners is welfare and work. A new study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education finds that three out of four Americans who rely on aid programs like food stamps or Medicaid are members of working families. 

The Center's Ken Jacobs says for those at the bottom, wages alone don't cut it. "You go back for the last 25 years, and real wages have actually declined since 1979," Jacobs says. "At the same time we've seen a decline in the share of workers with job-based health coverage."

So, many lean on the safety net to supplement their paychecks. The study finds that about half the workers in fast food, child care, and home healthcare live this reality.

This does not surprise social work scholar Luke Shaefer at the University of Michigan. He says welfare changes in the 1990s explicitly made a link between welfare to work.

"This is a direct, and you might even say, intended, result of policy decisions that were made," Shaefer says. "You can think of the welfare reform of 1996 as the stick: there's going to be less aid if you're not working."

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott