Learning to Work: A Functional Approach to Welfare and Higher Education

76 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2010 Last revised: 29 Jun 2012

See all articles by Martha F. Davis

Martha F. Davis

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: January 11, 2010


The current welfare law mandates participation in designated work activities at the expense of education for welfare recipients, particularly discouraging pursuit of higher education while, at the same time, emphasizing marriage. On the eve of the 2010 reauthorization of welfare reform, this article challenges the assumption underlying the 1996 welfare law and its 2005 reauthorization that work and education are wholly distinct concepts and activities. Indeed, both educational theory and workforce development policies have reflected this conceptual and functional common ground between work and education for decades. Similarly, peer nations and international law squarely acknowledge the ways in which these activities interact. Focusing on the common ground between work and education can serve as the basis for a new, broader understanding of welfare-to-work activities. Instead of pitting work and education against each other, as was done during the prior legislative debates and post-implementation analyses, this perspective reveals that work and education have considerable overlap. These overlaps can easily facilitate design of welfare programs that, unlike government-sponsored marriage promotion initiatives, build individual human capital while also conveying important values and skills necessary to workplace success.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Martha F., Learning to Work: A Functional Approach to Welfare and Higher Education (January 11, 2010). Buffalo Law Review Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 147-219, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1535445 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1535445

Martha F. Davis (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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