Katherine Newman

Recent Articles

The Job Ghetto

Competition in the inner city even for fast-food jobs is so great that welfare recipients will have trouble getting them.

T o fix the welfare mess, conservatives say, we should stop making life on the dole so comfortable, cut benefits, and force overindulged welfare moms to go out and find honest jobs. Unskilled foreigners can find work, so why can't AFDC recipients? With unemployment rates down, these expectations sound reasonable, particularly to middle-class Americans with stagnating incomes. The premise that jobs are available for those willing to take them is a great comfort to politicians with budget axes in hand and to conservative commentators calling on them to slash benefits. After all, they can claim they're not really casting poor women and children into the streets; they're just upholding the American work ethic. But can just any warm body find a job? For the past two years, we have studied the low-wage labor market in Harlem, focusing on minimum-wage jobs in the fast-food industry, which are typical of the employment opportunities many reformers have in mind for welfare recipients. After...

High Stakes, Hard Choices

Over the last decade, two important social policies originating on the right have been recast as centrist and adopted nationwide. One is welfare reform, which has pushed (some would say shoved) poor and low-skill parents headlong into the labor market. The other is the turn against "social promotion" and toward high-stakes testing in public schools. Kids as young as eight years old are now held back to repeat a grade if they do not achieve specific test scores. The two policies were inspired by wholly different research findings and are being implemented by entirely different bureaucracies. Yet they are intertwined in the real lives of the working poor. So far, 46 states have adopted or are developing the new testing regimes. But school districts -- especially inner-city districts already plagued by poorly prepared teachers and insufficient funds for books, paper, and building maintenance -- are hardly in a position to meet the new demands. Faced with inadequate budgets for the basics...