Approximately 25,000 families who live in Dallas County receive welfare benefits in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). During the next two years, the head of the household in the vast majority of these families must surrender his or her monthly benefits, find work, and make arrangements for childcare and transportation. The challenge for most of these families will be enormous.
In the first place, a mother with three children will need to land a job paying an average hourly wage between $10 and $12. Very few of these parents possess the skills to command such earnings. The changing dynamics of the American economy during the last thirty years have eliminated millions of relatively high-paying, blue collar jobs, and replaced them with millions of new high tech, information management jobs, as well as a growing number of low paying jobs in the service sector.
Second, jobs remain scarce in the central city, as well as in surrounding low income neighborhoods. Most people I meet want to work. Most are not qualified for the higher income opportunities available. The jobs left simply do not allow families to earn enough to cover the basics of child care, transportation, medical insurance, food, housing and clothing.
Still, welfare reform is upon us. It is now the law. How will
our community respond to this serious and important challenge? Last week President Clinton challenged churches to employ at least one person who must make the move from welfare to work. Not a bad idea for many churches, especially the larger ones. But, it is unrealistic to expect the two thousand churches in Dallas to create jobs for 25,000 new workers. What if the Dallas business sector teamed up with the faith community and the various civic organizations to rise to the challenge? How would that look?
Recently, our organization initiated the
Jubilee Project. Borrowing some concepts from Family Pathfinders, State Comptroller John Sharp's program to help welfare families make the transition work, the
Jubilee Project seeks to link small groups in churches with welfare families for the purpose of forming friendships and new networks of opportunity. Here's how the project works: a small group or a Sunday School class from your church contacts our office indicating interest in getting involved with a family. Our staff will 1. locate a family and make the necessary introduction; 2. provide your training for your group; 3. support your efforts with individualized case management and many of the resources you and your family will need in the transition and; 4. stay in touch with you to monitor your progress.
Business owners and leaders fit in throughout the process. Many could be involved in the hands-on process in one of the small groups. Other business leaders can assist the small groups by making employment opportunities available. Still others may decide to sign on as mentors in our effort. Partnership is the key to our success as a community.
So far, most Americans do not regard welfare reform as a national challenge. Most of us view welfare recipients as the citizens with the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. The future of our nation may hang in the balance. Why? Just remember the children. The children of welfare families stand to lose the most if their parents fail to make the transition successfully. Long term, generational poverty negatively impacts the lives of children. Inferior educational experiences, inadequate nutrition and health care, physical and emotional abuse, and a general sense of hopelessness threaten to rob kids of their slot at realizing the American dream.
In effect, welfare reform invites you and me to unite in addressing a major national and community problem. By coming together to form new and surprising partnerships, families, churches and businesses have a rare and wonderful opportunity to change the social and economic landscape of the nation
for the sake of the kidsour next generation. Interested? Call Dan Umphress, 214-823-8766. He can help you get started today.