Non-profits Link Jobless to Private Sector
Training not Tax Cuts Key to Welfare Reform
November 29, 2005 9:19 PM
The United States has experienced slow but steady success with its welfare reform compared to other nations who have a modest network of non-profit organizations, according to a visiting professor from Germany.
Margit Mayer is an exchange professor of political science with SF State’s Angelika von Wahl who is teaching Mayer’s course at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin this fall. Last Tuesday in the HSS building, as part of the continuing lecture series presented by the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences, Mayer compared how Germany and the U.S. are coping with increasing privatization of social services in an expanding global economy.
A social safety net guaranteeing unemployed workers a minimum income dates back to the middle of the 19th century when Bismarck was the German leader recalled Mayer. Only between 2003 and 2005 when the German parliament instituted the Hartz Reforms (its version of the U.S. 1996 Welfare Reform Act) has Germany cut its once generous assistance.
“There is no ‘rice’ without responsibility,” said Mayer, who paraphrased Anthony Gidden, advisor to Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. “There’s been long-term employment in Germany since the late 80s. Poverty (now social exclusion) is no longer measured by cash transfer. Now there is a push to move the unemployed into the mainstream market emphasized by job training.”
Non-profits in Germany are characterized by what Mayer called, good, ambivalent or bad practice. The good practice combines training with job placement and connects with housing policy. There, the government is subsidizing non-profits in training clients for neighborhood revitalization. But many of the tasks are low-wage jobs such as custodial work in stadiums, poster removal or security.
Mayer cited a number of similar non-profits in Los Angeles, but who are privately funded through civic organizations. She noted the limited success of Chrysalis in the Watts section of Los Angles. It is a non-profit managed by former homeless people who do street cleaning and removing shantytowns erected by the indigent.
But reliance on non-profits as the mediator between the state and the private market highlights their limitations; even of the good practice models said Mayer. Most non-profits (in Germany) operate as an extended arm of local state government. Because of government cuts, non-profits curtailed counseling and training. They now place clients in the first available job that are often minimum wage and temporary.
“I think we are in an interesting moment, with all the revitalization programs ¬- the enterprise zones, (i.e., south of Market Street’s multi-media gulch)” said Mayer. “We need to exert pressure on the state so that it will support non-profits. In Germany state funding provides 90 percent of support to non-profits. In Los Angeles they receive 40 percent.”
“The goal of non-profits is not place clients in low-wage jobs but in decent, long-term level of work. But in actuality, this is what often happens.”
Despite recent progress in the U.S. some would dispute Mayer’s outlook. Cathy Johnson is the coordinator of special projects for the College Of Behavioral & Social Sciences. Johnson noted that assistance programs in the U.S. last only 9 to 24 months. No one can work 40 hours a week and take advantage of a college education she said. The only training persons on assistance could get will lead to dead-end short-term work.
“The 1996 Welfare Reform Law was not intended to empower people to be self-sufficient,” said Johnson. “There are various bills in Congress for re-authorization (for benefits) but they’re in abeyance because of arguments over the amount of time required for (recipients) to work.”
Shanti Harris, 34, is a political science graduate student and is enrolled in Mayer’s class. For the last two years he has been working for the non-profit Walden House, headquartered on Townsend Street that also includes eight resident facilities all over the Bay Area and additional locations in Los Angeles.
Until this month, Harris was working in Walden’s Substance Abuse Program (SAP). Harris has guided clients through anger management, parenting classes, and computer training. He also imposed sanctions for policy infractions that ranged from demanding client confessions at Walden house meetings all the way to expulsion. Recently he has begun job recruitment and placed clients at AT&T Park, tool works, and veterinarian technicians.
Harris called Walden House a “definite success.” Every year Walden graduates 200 clients. “Once they’ve been out on their own for a year and a half, cause no trouble with the law, and stay clean and sober, we recognize with a ceremony at the Palace Of Fine Arts.”
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