By the Sweat of Their Brow: Welfare to Work in Los Angeles

Economic Roundtable Research Report, 1988

209 Pages Posted: 2 May 2016

See all articles by Peter Force

Peter Force

Independent (Deceased)

Daniel Flaming

Economic Roundtable

Julia Henly

University of Chicago

Mark Drayse


Date Written: January 1, 1998


The nation's best known welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was created to give widows and destitute mothers the means to stay at home and care for children. However, the entry of large numbers of American mothers into the paid workforce has created increasing tension between the desire to care for impoverished children and the belief that able-bodied parents should earn their own living. Recent federal legislation has replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). California enacted CalWorks to implement this new federal block grant program, placing a five-year lifetime limit on aid for adults. Months in which the mother receives any part of her income from TANF count toward her lifetime five-year limit, making it critically important for welfare recipients to find stable, full-time employment that pays a living wage. The purpose of this report is to provide practical, objective information that will help policy makers and program administrators create successful welfare-to-work programs in Los Angeles County, which has the nation's largest public assistance caseload.

The central question raised by impending welfare reform is, what works for moving very poor people into steady employment? A look at actual characteristics of different work-readiness groups within the welfare caseload provides a practical basis for designing programs that will help welfare recipients survive in the labor market. About one-fifth of the county's caseload of single mothers were employed at the time of the Census, and had significant earnings (earning half or more of their total income), indicating that they had viable prospects for economic self-sufficiency. Another fifth were employed or had been employed in the past two years, but did not have significant earnings, indicating intermediate prospects for self-sufficiency for this group. And about three-fifths of the county's caseload had not worked recently or had never worked, indicating difficult prospects for self-sufficiency.

A fundamental difference between single mothers who are part of the welfare caseload and those who are not receiving aid is their educational attainment. Among non-recipients, only one-third do not have a high-school diploma, while among those receiving aid over half had not completed high school. About 44 percent of the non-recipients had at least some college-level education, while only half as many mothers receiving assistance had attended college.

Keywords: AFDC, Aid Recipients, Earnings, Education, Employment, Household, Income, Jobs, Labor Market, Language, Los Angeles County, Low Wage, Motherhood, Occupation, Poverty, Public Assistance, Readiness, Services, Single Mothers, Survival, Transportation, Underground Economy, Unemployment, Work

JEL Classification: D63, H53, I31, I32, I38, J21, J23, J24, J31, J38, J42, J61, J64, J68, J71, M53, N31, O15

Suggested Citation

Force, Peter and Flaming, Daniel and Henly, Julia and Drayse, Mark, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Welfare to Work in Los Angeles (January 1, 1998). Economic Roundtable Research Report, 1988, Available at SSRN:

Peter Force

Independent (Deceased)

Daniel Flaming (Contact Author)

Economic Roundtable ( email )

244 S. San Pedro St., Ste. 506
Los Angeles, CA 90012
United States
2138928104 (Phone)


Julia Henly

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Mark Drayse

Independent ( email )

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