Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Three Cheers for Eliot Spitzer

I'm a Democrat, but I often have problems with the party's positions on economic issues, particularly with regards to the labor market. Thus, I salute Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York:

Chiding lawmakers for ignoring "the realities of the marketplace," Governor Spitzer stunned fellow Democrats yesterday by vetoing a bill that would have reordered the priorities of welfare offices by forcing caseworkers to steer female welfare recipients to higher-wage jobs in male-dominated fields.


The legislation would have mandated that state welfare offices encourage recipients to seek training for "sustainable wage jobs" and promote employment in "nontraditional" fields. The bill defines "sustainable" as 185% of the poverty level, or $37,000 for a family of four. "Nontraditional" is defined as an industry in which one gender makes up more than 75% of the work force. The bill's official memo highlights as "nontraditional" jobs for women such occupations as furniture movers, taxi drivers, carpenters, chemists, firefighters, and aerospace engineers.


Mr. Spitzer, in his veto message, took issue with the bill on three major points. Saying that only one-third of parents receiving welfare have a high school diploma, Mr. Spitzer wrote that low-wage jobs, combined with education and training, offer many recipients a better "opportunity" for employment. Lawmakers, he wrote, failed to appreciate the importance of "securing employment even at a low wage and building an employment history over time."

"Moreover," he continued, "providing public assistance recipients with training that emphasizes positions that pay 185% above the poverty level ignores the realities of the marketplace, which has many fewer 'sustainable wage' positions available."

Here, here for Spitzer. Lest you think I am being cold hearted, consider the fact that simply telling poor welfare recipients to get high-paying jobs (and even training them) will not necessarily result in them getting those jobs. As Mickey Kaus points out:
Unless his veto is overridden, embattled New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer has seemingly saved his state's welfare reform from the Good Jobs Fallacy--the idea that it makes sense to tell welfare recipients to hold out for high-paying jobs ("aerospace engineers" and "chemists" are two of the professions mentioned)--before they have to go to work. Keeping recipients on the dole while they "train" for jobs they never get is a time-tested way of ... well, keeping recipients on the dole.
They have a better chance of climbing up the income ladder if, as Spitzer says, they build an employment history at a low-wage job first. There is empirical evidence that welfare reform in the 1990s, which placed an emphasis on getting people off welfare rolls into any job, even a low-paying one, actually did seem to reduce poverty:

During the Pataki administration, welfare rolls fell by about 1 million people. Between 1995 and 2005, the poverty rate for families of single mothers in New York City fell to 49% from 56.3%, according to a report published by the Community Service Society of New York.

The child poverty rate in New York State fell to about 21% in 2005 from about 26% in 1996, the year before Mr. Pataki approved new welfare policies to bring New York into compliance with stricter federal welfare guidelines, which included a five-year time limit for benefits and passed under President Clinton.

During the same period, work rates for never-married single mothers between 18 and 64 increased to 70% from about 52%.

And how absurd is the requirement that welfare case workers steer women to jobs in male-dominated fields? Not that there's anything wrong with women working as furniture movers or taxi drivers-- if they want to, that's great! But requiring it smacks of misguided social engineering. The case workers should concentrate on helping the women get a job, period, without regard as to whether that job is "male" or "female."

No comments: