One program through which this has been realized is Choices, which allows people receiving welfare opportunities to build economic security for their families. Through Choices, people receiving welfare and low-income workers are assessed on career preferences and abilities, and then receive counseling as to viable options for educational and career advancement. Program participants then have a variety of options to pursue, including job training, job search referral, academic and vocational college degrees, and in-house certificates. Throughout the program, participants continue to receive group and individual support, as well as assessment and career counseling.
Choices and similar programs in Massachusetts have the potential to increase education enrollment for people receiving welfare, and will if citizens are informed about their existence and empowered to pursue them. A high-quality system connects families with the benefits they need when the jobs run out and or illness or some other crisis presents itself. After families are stabilized, the key to long-term financial security is enhancing parental employability in jobs that will last; policy that encourages education and training is imperative to achieving this goal.
A report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) confirms that despite the challenging circumstances low-income students face in seeking a college education, higher education “provides the best opportunity–especially for women–to acquire good jobs, with good wages and good benefits.” The most striking finding is the ripple effect that higher education creates in students? families and communities. Children of college graduates show improved grades, better study habits, and higher self-esteem. Meanwhile, 80 percent of low-income women who obtain degrees report increased community involvement, and 76 percent feel that they have increased their contributions to society.
Here in New York, state officials must imitate the efforts of Julia Kehoe and others in Massachusetts if we are serious about generating the conditions in which families can thrive. State law permits work-study, externships, and internships to count as work activity; the focus now must be on facilitating the attainment of higher education and job training. In a laudable bi-partisan consensus, legislators agreed last month that people receiving welfare should have access to training that leads to sustainable wage jobs. Like the Massachusetts model, New York’s new law can be designed to benefit those who are poor, low-wage, or receiving welfare.
The Globe editorial ends with this directive: “The welfare department need not be just a place to get a benefit check — or a referral to a dead-end job. Massachusetts needs a comprehensive effort to fight poverty by building economic self-sufficiency, and college is a crucial piece of that effort.” Programs like Choices and the efforts of Julia Kehoe are advancing this goal.
The movement in Massachusetts towards realizing the potential of positive policy is laudable. Ending the cycle of low-wage, dead-end employment is possible with the help of our policy makers, and can happen in New York if we are serious about instituting and implementing policy that addresses the underlying causes of poverty.