MILWAUKEE—Is it possible for Candace Vance to find a good job?
Vance, 31, is a single mother of two who hasn’t worked for more than a year. She’s on Wisconsin’s version of welfare, called Wisconsin Works, or W-2, which provides her with $650 a month. In order to receive that money, Vance is required to look for a job, and if she doesn’t find one, she’ll eventually lose her benefits.
The challenge, for Vance and for millions of people like her, is that the jobs available to her don’t provide much of a chance to build a better life. Most of the jobs that she is qualified for pay around the minimum wage, which, at $7.25 an hour in Wisconsin, Vance says, is not enough to cover her rent, groceries, and gas, and allow her to have anything left over. Saving up to go back to college is out of the question, and she’s not allowed to go back to school while she’s receiving W-2.
“They say, ‘Go, get a minimum wage job, just to get your butt off W-2, and then you won’t have to depend on us,” she told me. “But we need more than that. You know we need more than that.”
Since Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law in 1996, work has been billed as the best solution for people like Vance. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known as welfare reform, encouraged states to put stringent work requirements on people receiving Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). In order for states to continue to receive federal money, recipients had to put in a certain number of volunteer or work hours every month, and counselors had to push recipients to take a job, any job, that would get them off the dole. (Each state has its own program to administer TANF; W-2 is Wisconsin's version.)