Season 6: The Welfare-to-Work Industrial Complex
Mar 15, 2023
Season 6

Season 6: The Welfare-to-Work Industrial Complex

"The Uncertain Hour" is back! We're diving deep into work requirements.

“Get a job!” That sums up our current cash welfare system in a nutshell. Ever since so-called welfare reform in the 1990s, the system has been based on the idea that welfare recipients must be doing some kind of work or “job-readiness activity” to receive government assistance. Today, anyone who signs up for cash welfare must quickly find a job or navigate a maze of work requirements that are designed, in theory, to prepare people for having a job and make sure they’re not freeloading off the government. It’s a system that plays on what Americans have always wanted to believe — that all it takes to move out of poverty is a can-do attitude and hard work.

Now there is a growing chorus of politicians who argue that even more programs that help people in need — including food stamps, Medicaid and public housing — should have more and tougher work requirements attached. Some are calling it Welfare Reform 2.0. But as politicians push these programs in the name of ending “welfare dependency,” behind the scenes there’s something else going on. A group of multimillion-dollar corporations have built their businesses on these welfare-to-work policies, and critics say they have cultivated their own cycle of dependency on the federal government. 

So do work requirements actually help people climb out of poverty? Where did this idea of requiring labor in exchange for government aid come from? And how are for-profit welfare companies cashing in? Turns out the answers can be surprising and troubling.

The sixth season of “The Uncertain Hour” is an up-close look at the welfare-to-work industrial complex, and some of the multimillion-dollar for-profit companies that run many welfare offices around the country. As politicians call for more work requirements in government safety-net programs, this series explains how welfare programs have evolved into a system that often places poor and vulnerable Americans into jobs that do not support their families and often leave them on government assistance. A system that has meanwhile funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to private contractors. 

The future of this podcast starts with you.

This season of “The Uncertain Hour” tells the unheard stories of real people affected by the welfare-to-work industrial complex.

Stories like these are seldom in the limelight. It takes extensive time and resources to do this type of investigative journalism … to help you understand the complexity of our economy and to hold the powerful to account.

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The team

Krissy Clark Host and Senior Correspondent
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Marque Greene Assistant Producer
Grace Rubin Assistant Producer
Michael May Editor
Chris Julin Scoring and Sound Design