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.”