Last week while listening to NPR, I heard news of the drop of welfare rolls in NYC to a 40-year low, a statistic that Mayor Bloomberg is touting as a major success. From a City Limits article published today:
“We promised to move New Yorkers to self-sufficiency and we are delivering on that promise in a historic way,” Bloomberg states. Of those who leave welfare for work, 88 percent keep their jobs for at least three months, and 75 percent still have them after six.
Now, when I heard those figures, I was immediately skeptical. Those numbers sounded good, but it’s easy to make numbers sound good by leaving the bad stuff out. And, as the City Limits article reports, it seems that’s precisely what’s going on here:
But the press release [put out by the mayor on April 5] never explains that those numbers apply only to the 23 percent of former clients known to have jobs at all. The other 77 percent aren’t tracked by HRA, according to spokesperson Robert McHugh.
Most of those 77% simply stop showing up for their appointments. Welfare advocates say that much of that drop off is due to the severe difficulties, obstacles, even hostility that people face when attempting to access welfare benefits. As Jillynn Stevens of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies says in the article, “There is every attempt to not sign people up, to exclude them from eligibility, to make it as unfriendly and difficult as possible to be a welfare recipient.”
Bloomberg can dress up the numbers all he wants, but the truth remains that welfare reform has done far more to harm poor folks than to help them. To his credit, Bloomberg is currently seeking to make it easier for some adults to get food stamps, but there’s a lot more to be done to redress the harm done by the anti-poor policies of current mayor and his predecessor Giuliani.