Welfare reform may never live up to its promise of creating jobs for the poor–but it has created a mini-employment boom for welfare researchers. The problem is that few of them seem to be collecting data in New York.
Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, author of the landmark book “The Truly Disadvantaged,” is set to embark on an ambitious four-year study into the effects of federal welfare reforms on three cities. But New York–a city with over one million welfare recipients–will not be included in the study, City Limits has learned.
Wilson's team will analyze the effect of the reforms on mothers and children in Chicago, Boston and San Antonio. The study is due to start in January and begins with $15 million in foundation and federal funding, a Wilson associate said on Friday. “We're not in the field yet, but it's about to be implemented,” said Jim Quane, associate director of Harvard's Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Center. “The project will consist of face-to-face interviews and ethnological research. It is a very big effort.”
Quane said the scope of the project will broaden as Wilson and researchers at Johns Hopkins, Penn State and other institutions raise more money. “We're kind of like NPR,” Quane joked. “We're raising as we go along. Maybe we'll have to give away T-shirts.”
In 1996 Congress slated $10 million for a census bureau study of the reforms. Wilson's study is one of a handful of non-governmental efforts. The Washington-based Urban Institute recently began a $50 million study of the devolution of federal social services programs. New York is among the 13 of the states that is included in that study, but it won't be a focal point.
Welfare advocates argue that New York City won't attract serious researchers as long as the Giuliani administration makes it nearly impossible for analysts to obtain even rudimentary information on the city's workfare program. Welfare expert Liz Krueger says she has been approached by several researchers at Columbia University and CUNY-Baruch who have had to abandon or downsize research efforts because welfare officials have made it so hard to get stats. Quane would not say why Wilson had chosen to bypass New York in his study.
“Why isn't Wilson studying New York? Why isn't anybody studying New York?” she asked. “It's because elected officials in other cities are at least open to dialogue about welfare reform. What a shame it is that a world-famous legitimate researcher like Wilson can't ask his questions in New York. But, then again, no one's ever allowed to do that kind of research in New York.”
A social services researcher added: “They have no reason to cooperate with an evaluation. There's just no way the results of an evaluation would be positive. Why would they want anybody to know what's really going on?”