Long before welfare was considered something that needed reformation, before public assistance became a privilege rather than a right, and before it was assumed that almost anybody could get a job if you simply threatened to cut off their assistance, there were people who lacked job skills and there were programs designed to help them get those skills. Some people completed the programs, got jobs, and stayed off welfare. Others, many of whom had major employment barriers that kept them out of the workforce, including learning disabilities, mental health issues, drug or alcohol problems, no transportation, inadequate childcare, and children with special needs, did not. Still others were able to subsist on AFDC while they completed college or vocational programs. Because of parenting responsibilities and other obstacles, getting a degree or certificate sometimes took quite a while. Things have changed dramatically in the last few years. Welfare has become workfare, and is no longer an entitlement. Participants now face lifetime limits on how long they can receive assistance. Education and training now take a distant back seat to “work first” approaches that emphasize job search and soft skills at the expense of substantial training opportunities that can lead to a family-sustaining career. The result has been a precipitous decline in welfare caseloads nationwide, with Wisconsin’s W-2 program leading the way. But while people are leaving welfare in unprecedented numbers, families continue to struggle; their incomes remain low and their prospects for true self-sufficiency remain remote. With the loss of entitlements have come highly discretionary programs in which eligible applicants may be denied help. The strong economy has enabled many former welfare recipients to get jobs, but without adequate skills and access to education and training, most of them have merely gone from being just plain poor to being “working and poor.” Current policy in Wisconsin makes the pursuit of a college or vocational degree impractical for the vast majority of W-2 participants and other low-income parents. This paper focuses on the importance of restoring their access to postsecondary education. (author abstract)
Postsecondary education: Wisconsin tells parents in poverty: "You don't need no book larnin"
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