|FROM WELFARE TO WORK|
June 11, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Now, another in our continuing look at welfare reform. Tonight: moving people from welfare to work. Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
LEE HOCHBERG: It was 5:20 in the morning. The sun wasnt up yet, but Andrea Kuneau was already at the daycare center to drop off her two children.
ANDREA KUNEAU, Former Welfare Recipient: Be a good girl today, okay.
CHILD: Yes, mommy.
ANDREA KUNEAU: Dont forget. You dont have big school today. Okay? You stay here all day. Theres milk and cereal. Okay. Im going to go. You guys have a good day.
LEE HOCHBERG: The good-byes were rushed because she didnt want to be late for her job. Its a job shes thankful to have.
ANDREA KUNEAU: By guys.
LEE HOCHBERG: A year and a half ago Kuneau was on welfare. She was working but at poverty level, earning only minimum wage, and receiving no child support. Providing for her kids was a struggle. Then she was plucked off the welfare roll and hired into a position in the computer industry that pays her $9 an hour. Thats more than shes ever earned.
ANDREA KUNEAU: Before, it was--it was always really hard to get out of bed and want to work because I was only making $5.50 an hour. And now its like--its a whole new aspect. I love to get up. I love to go to work. I love working. I always have liked working.
LEE HOCHBERG: Kuneau is one of hundreds of people nationwide whove moved from welfare to work as part of corporate programs to hire people on assistance. Kuneau was hired by Fujitsu, Japans biggest computer maker, to work in its Portland area memory chip manufacturing facility.
ANDREA KUNEAU: They gave me a shot. They, you know, gave me a trial period, and I showed them what I could do. And they must have liked it because Im still here.
LEE HOCHBERG: When President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill last August, he called on American corporations to increase their hiring of welfare recipients.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Every employer in this country that ever made a disparaging remark about the welfare system needs to think about whether he or she should now hire somebody from welfare and go to work--
LEE HOCHBERG: More than 100 companies have agreed to do so. The Marriott Corporation has hired 600 people and companies like Monsanto, Sprint, Burger King, and UAL are also participating. Fujitsus experience with welfare hiring hints at both the promise and the problems of it. Kuneau was one of a group of about 30 people hired last year. She helps produce integrated circuits in the companys dust-free, clean room. The company also had agreed to hire 445 additional workers off welfare at a later date to staff and expand its plant. As an incentive to do that, the local government gave Fujitsu a $23 million tax break. Fujitsus personnel manager, Ron Craig, emphasizes its interest in welfare hiring is economic, not altruistic.
RONALD CRAIG, Fujitsu Corp.: Its the expanding economy, quite simply. The labor market is very tight. We are looking for good employees wherever we can find them. This is but one source.
LEE HOCHBERG: In Portland, five major high-tech companies are expanding, with 5,000 hires expected in the next five years, so hungry workers on welfare or not are valuable. Fujitsu has been willing to invest considerable resources in getting the new hires up to speed. The company estimates training the workers--most of whom have never worked in electronics--costs it $16,000 per employee. And there are other costs. During the employees transition period, the first twelve to eighteen months on the job, Fujitsu picks up half the expense of child care. The company believes that subsidy lowers absenteeism among the welfare population that includes many single mothers. Kuneau says that subsidy is essential since child care would eat up most of her earnings.
ANDREA KUNEAU: I wouldnt be able to work. I wouldnt have been able to work. I have--if the kids dont go to day care, I wouldnt be able to work because I wouldnt have anywhere to put them.
LEE HOCHBERG: Fujitsu also found it helpful to subsidize employee transportation and housing costs. Benefits can total $400 per month per employee. But even with all of that investment, the road from welfare to work can be a bumpy one. Fujitsus dropout rate for its welfare hires is almost twice its rate for its other entry-level hires. Half of the thirty people its broad aboard have either quit or been fired.
RONALD CRAIG: Because people havent fully made that commitment to enter into a job and stick with it. They are perhaps not quite ready to take on full responsibility for their personal lives and the challenges that come from entering into the work world.
LEE HOCHBERG: Those challenges have long frustrated Jenny Hobson. A mother of three, shes been on welfare for more than 20 years in 14 states. Now in Oregon, she says bad health and child care breakdowns have confounded her attempts to make it in the workplace.
JENNY HOBSON, Welfare Recipient: I lost the first job I got here because as soon as I got hired, my daughter had to go in for surgery and have hernias removed, and then about a week later, I had eight abscesses. When I moved to Oregon, I had--all my teeth were destroyed, so I got my teeth pulled, and I got fired because I missed a total of three days of work.
LEE HOCHBERG: A learning disability further handicaps her. She lost her last job at a pharmacy when her boss said she didnt learn fast enough.
JENNY HOBSON: I did get another job Tuesday or Wednesday working at a Chicago sandwich shop, but I may be losing that one because you have to be fast; you have to be able to remember quickly; and I can function at my own pace, you know, but I cant go real fast.
LEE HOCHBERG: To try to reduce setbacks, Oregons welfare caseworkers are now counseling their clients even after theyve been hired. Shirley Iverson manages state welfare operations.
SHIRLEY IVERSON, Oregon Welfare Department: Maybe their child care fails that day or their transportation fails that day. We need to be part of managing that situation with them. Is there a bus that you can take? Can I take the state car and actually go and get you this one time and take you to your place of employment? So that keeping you employed becomes part of our support system for that client.
LEE HOCHBERG: Fujitsu says its training its own managers to deal with such challenges, one more cost but worth it in todays robust economy.
RONALD CRAIG: The costs, relative to the value of their productivity once theyve become a fully trained and effective worker, are relatively small.
LEE HOCHBERG: And yet, as if to illustrate the risk of depending on private industry to get people off welfare, Fujitsu recently announced it wants out of its agreement to hire 445 new workers. The company says the world market for the memory chip it makes in Oregon has gone soft and additional hiring isnt needed. They will merely move their employees from the old plant to the new one they built.
RONALD CRAIG: We simply didnt have the ability to create the number of jobs that we had originally anticipated.
LEE HOCHBERG: Government leaders are stunned by the decision.
TANYA COLLIER, Multnomah County Commissioner: I dont think they really cared about the welfare piece of it.
LEE HOCHBERG: Multnomah County Commissioner Tanya Collier says the county granted Fujitsu a permit to expand only on the companys promise that it would help the county deal with its welfare problem. Fujitsu says it will forgo the $23 million tax break it got as part of the deal. But Collier says the company should have tried harder to stick by its commitment.
TANYA COLLIER: If theyre having difficulty and theyre really committed to hiring people off of welfare, they would stick with the contract. And what they would do is renegotiate it to accommodate their downturn in their business. For example, put their goals off for a year.
LEE HOCHBERG: A survey by the Associated Press finds 76 of the nations 100 largest companies have no plans to hire off welfare. Oregon officials are hopeful just the same. Another high-tech company, LSI Logic, says it will consider people on welfare for 200 projected entry level jobs. And smaller companies seeking workers from Portlands hot job market are also interested. Sanderson Safety Supply, which employs 100 people, hired six from a program that teaches basic workplace skills to welfare recipients. Vice President Jerry Griffin.
JERRY GRIFFIN, Sanderson Safety Supply: The ones that weve received have come in with very positive attitudes. Now, if you want to use the word or what, but theyve been very good performers.
LEE HOCHBERG: And at least a few companies say theyll hire off welfare just because it needs to be done. Portland-based Hanna Anderson, a retailer of childrens clothing, doesnt have a big staff but has included a few, like this woman in catalogue sales, from the welfare rolls. Owner Gun Denhart.
GUN DENHART, Hanna Anderson: It doesnt cost us anything more to hire them than to hire someone else, so why not help these women to get started again?
EMPLOYEE: (on phone) Hanna Anderson. This is Vanessa. May I help you?
LEE HOCHBERG: The state of Oregon doesnt care if the motivation is financial or social. With 19,000 welfare recipients to place, its just hoping companies step forward to answer the call.