The University of Chicago News Office
Jan. 26, 1996 Press Contact: Sabrina Miller
(773) 702-4195

Evelyn Brodkin
Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration
The University of Chicago

Office: (773) 702-1138

Expert on Welfare Reform

New Study Shows Flaws at Street Level of Welfare Reform

Brodkin, an expert in poverty policy and politics of the welfare state, recently completed a two-year study of the “state side of the welfare contract.” She examined the street-level implementation of welfare-to-work policies in offices serving neighborhoods with concentrated urban poverty. She found systemic problems in achieving service quality and bureaucratic accountability as agency staff struggled to meet quotas for participation.

“It is wishful thinking to imagine that simply reducing federal control over state welfare programs is going to produce big improvements in state agency practice,” Brodkin says. “Congress’s version of welfare reform increases the burden on states to move welfare recipients into work, but gives them fewer resources to do it.

“It begs the real questions of how state agencies can develop the administrative capacity to accomplish that task, how they will be held accountable for the quality of their programs and how much local labor markets will have to offer in the way of good jobs for current welfare recipients.”

Over a two-year period, Brodkin conducted an in-depth case study in selected Chicago offices of “Project Chance,” the Illinois program designed to help move recipients from welfare to work. She directly observed the routine processes of program operation, including caseworker interactions with clients, and interviewed caseworkers, supervisors and managers. She also studied program operations at selected comparison sites in California.

“The point is not that my observations represent what goes on in every program on every day. The point is that all sorts of things can go on in state agencies–and they do.

“The short-term political gains to states of taking control and looking tough will be outweighed by the longer-term costs to the poor, our communities and especially our children. Governors may rue the day they convinced Congress to give them responsibility for solving one of America’s most difficult problems.”

Editor’s Note: For copies of Brodkin’s working paper, contact Catherine Behan (773) 702-8359.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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