Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Toward a Mandatory Work Policy for Men
Lawrence Mead


  1. Data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, March Current Population Survey, for the years after the indicated years.
  2. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, March 2006, table POV22.
  3. Lawrence M. Mead, Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin (Princeton University Press, 2004), chap. 9; Jeffrey Grogger and Lynn A. Karoly, Welfare Reform: Effects of a Decade of Change (Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 171–72.
  4. Admittedly, poverty is often endogenous to nonwork. To a large extent, that is, poverty and nonwork measure the same thing. Nevertheless, not all poor men are nonworking, and there are revealing differences among subgroups.
  5. Harry J. Holzer, Paul Offner, and Elaine Sorensen, “Declining Employment among Young Black Less- Educated Men: The Role of Incarceration and Child Support,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 24, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 330–33.
  6. For what follows, I am indebted to a meeting of experts on the men’s problem that I convened at New York University in December 2004 with support from the Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute. My interpretation, however, is my own and should not be attributed to the other participants or to CCI, MI, or their funders.
  7. In technical terms, the elasticity of labor supply with respect to wages is positive. The estimates come from Chinhui Juhn, Kevin M. Murphy, and Robert H. Topel, “Why Has the Natural Rate of Unemployment Increased over Time?” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1991, no. 2: 75–142; Lawrence F. Katz, “Wage Subsidies for the Disadvantaged,” in Generating Jobs: How to Increase Demand for Less-Skilled Workers, edited by Richard B. Freeman and Peter Gottschalk (New York: Russell Sage, 1998), chap. 1; and Jeff Grogger, “Market Wages and Youth Crime,” Journal of Labor Economics 16, no. 4 (October 1998): 756–91. My thanks to Harry Holzer for these sources.
  8. Harry J. Holzer and Paul Offner, “Trends in the Employment Outcomes of Young Black Men, 1979–2000,” in Black Males Left Behind, edited by Ronald B. Mincy (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 2006), chap. 2.
  9. Ronald F. Ferguson, “The Working-Poverty Trap,” Public Interest, no. 158 (Winter 2005): 71–82.
  10. George J. Borjas, “The Demographic Determinants of the Demand for Black Labor,” in The Black Youth Employment Crisis, edited by Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer (University of Chicago Press, 1986), chap. 5; Rebecca M. Blank and Jonah Gelbach, “Are Less-Educated Women Crowding Less-Educated Men Out of the Labor Market?” in Black Males Left Behind, edited by Mincy (see note 8), chap. 5.
  11. George J. Borjas, “The Labor Demand Curve Is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 118, no. 4 (November 2003): 1335–74. Borjas estimates that high school dropouts lost 5 percent of wages to immigration over the 1980s and 1990s. For the debate about the issue, see Roger Lowenstein, “The Immigration Equation,” New York Times Magazine, July 9, 2006.
  12. Steven D. Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, “An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115, no. 3 (August 2000): 755–89. My thanks to Peter Reuter for helping me interpret this research.
  13. Peter Edelman, Harry J. Holzer, and Paul Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 2006), pp. 28–30.
  14. Holzer and Offner, “Trends in the Employment Outcomes of Young Black Men” (see note 8), p. 24.
  15. Holzer, Offner, and Sorensen, “Declining Employment among Young Black Less-Educated Men” (see note 5), pp. 333–47. My thanks to Harry Holzer for helping me interpret these trends.
  16. Lawrence M. Mead, The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America (New York: Basic Books, 1992), pp. 139–40.
  17. Elijah Anderson, “The Story of John Turner,” Public Interest, no. 108 (Summer 1992): 3–34; Mark Kleiman, “Coerced Abstinence: A Neopaternalist Drug Policy Initiative,” in The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty, edited by Lawrence M. Mead (Brookings, 1997), chap. 6.
  18. Harry J. Holzer, “Black Youth Nonemployment: Duration and Job Search,” in Black Youth Employment Crisis, edited by Freeman and Holzer (see note 10), chap. 1.
  19. Alford A. Young, “Low-Income Black Men on Work Opportunity, Work Resources, and Job Training Programs,” in Black Males Left Behind, edited by Mincy (see note 8), pp. 150–58. For an early statement of this culture, see Elliot Liebow, Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967). For a later and more hostile statement, see Orlando Patterson, “A Poverty of the Mind,” New York Times, March 26, 2006.
  20. Joleen Kirschenman and Kathryn M. Neckerman, “‘We’d Love to Hire Them, but . . .’: The Meaning of Race for Employers,” in The Urban Underclass, edited by Christopher Jencks and Paul E. Peterson (Brookings, 1991), pp. 203–32.
  21. Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage (University of California Press, 2005), chaps. 2–4.
  22. Harvey C. Mansfield, Manliness (Yale University Press, 2006); Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992), chaps. 13–19.
  23. Philippe I. Bourgois, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2003); Elijah Anderson, Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (New York: Norton, 1999).
  24. Frank E. Furstenberg Jr., Kay E. Sherwood, and Mercer L. Sullivan, Caring and Paying: What Fathers and Mothers Say about Child Support (New York: MDRC, July 1992).
  25. Edin and Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep (see note 21), pp. 135–36, 177–79.
  26. Daniel P. Moynihan, “A Family Policy for the Nation,” America (September 18, 1965), p. 283.
  27. Edelman, Holzer, and Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (see note 13), p. 24.
  28. Mead, New Politics of Poverty (see note 16), pp. 147–55.
  29. Blaine Harden, “‘Dead Broke’ Dads’ Child Support Struggle,” New York Times, January 29, 2002, p. A19; and Erik Eckholm, “Help for the Hardest Part of Prison: Staying Out,” New York Times, August 12, 2006, pp. A1, A12.
  30. Edelman, Holzer, and Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (see note 13), chaps. 5–6; Wendell Primus, “Improving Public Policies to Increase the Income and Employment of Low-Income Nonresident Fathers,” in Black Males Left Behind, edited by Mincy (see note 8), pp. 226–37; Edmund S. Phelps, Rewarding Work: How to Restore Participation and Self-Support to Free Enterprise (Harvard University Press, 1997).
  31. Robert Moffitt, “Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review,” Journal of Economic Literature 30, no. 1 (March 1992): 13–19.
  32. Gary Burtless, “The Work Response to a Guaranteed Income: A Survey of Experimental Evidence,” in Lessons from the Income Maintenance Experiments: Proceedings of a Conference Held in September 1986, edited by Alicia H. Munnell (Boston: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, n.d.), pp. 22–52. Wage subsidies do not appear promising, Burtless concludes, because “the labor supply functions estimated in the experiments are vertical or backward-bending” (p. 48).
  33. The best known of several studies is Bruce D. Meyer and Dan T. Rosenbaum, “Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 116, no. 3 (August 2001): 1063–114. One may also doubt whether the claimed EITC effect actually occurred, as field observers of welfare reform did not hear that the credit caused welfare mothers to go to work. More likely, mothers went to work because of welfare reform and then received EITC as a windfall. See Mead, Government Matters (see note 3), pp. 175–81.
  34. Howard S. Bloom and others, Promoting Work in Public Housing:The Effectiveness of JOBS-Plus: Final Report (New York: MDRC, March 2005), chapter 4.
  35. Greg J. Duncan, Aletha C. Huston, and Thomas S. Weisner, Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and Their Children (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007), pp. 62–63.
  36. Higher wages reduced absenteeism, but special skills, if demanded by a job, increased it. See Ronald Ferguson and Randall Filer, “Do Better Jobs Make Better Workers? Absenteeism from Work among Inner-City Black Youths,” in Black Youth Employment Crisis, edited by Freeman and Holzer (see note 10), chap. 7.
  37. These include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Aid Society-Carrera, and the Quantum Opportunities Program.
  38. Here and below I rely heavily on Robert Lerman, “Helping Out-of-School Youth Attain Labor Market Success: What We Know and How to Learn More” (Washington: Urban Institute, 2005).
  39. Howard S. Bloom and others, The National JTPA Study: Title II-A Impacts on Earnings and Employment at 18 Months (Bethesda, Md.: Abt Associates, May 1992).
  40. Robert J. LaLonde, “The Promise of Public Sector-Sponsored Training Programs,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 9, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 149–68.
  41. James J. Heckman, “Doing It Right: Job Training and Education,” Public Interest, no. 135 (Spring 1999): 86–107.
  42. Lloyd Ulman, “The Uses and Limits of Manpower Policy,” Public Interest, no. 34 (Winter 1974): 97–98.
  43. Lawrence M. Mead, “Welfare Employment,” in The New Paternalism, edited by Mead (see note 17), chap. 2; Mead, Government Matters (see note 3), chap. 8.
  44. James J. Kemple with Judith Scott-Clayton, Career Academies: Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes and Educational Attainment (New York: MDRC, March 2004).
  45. John Burghardt and others, Does Job Corps Work? Summary of the National Job Corps Study (Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica, June 2001).
  46. Hugh Price, “Foreword,” in Edelman, Holzer, and Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (see note 13), p. xvi. Of course, such outcomes do not establish impact. The program is now being evaluated by MDRC.
  47. Lerman, “Helping Out-of-School Youth” (see note 38), pp. 22–4.
  48. Price, “Foreword” (see note 46), pp. xiv–xv.
  49. U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Policy Planning and Research, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (March 1965), pp. 16, 40–43.
  50. Joshua D. Angrist, “Estimating the Labor Market Impact of Voluntary Military Service Using Social Security Data on Military Applicants,” Econometrica 66, no. 2 (March 1998): 249–88; Meredith A. Kleykamp, “College, Jobs, or the Military? Enlistment during a Time of War,” Social Science Quarterly 87, no. 2 (June 2006): 272–90; idem, “A Great Place to Start? The Effect of Prior Military Service on Hiring” (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas, Department of Sociology, February 2007).
  51. Furstenberg, Sherwood, and Sullivan, Caring and Paying (see note 24); Earl S. Johnson and Fred Doolittle, “Low-Income Parents and the Parents’ Fair Share Demonstration” (New York: MDRC, June 1996).
  52. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, April 2004, child support microdata file, table 4.
  53. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2005 (2005), p. 67; Edelman, Holzer, and Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (see note 13), p. 25.
  54. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2004 Green Book: Background Material, and Data on the Programs within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means (March 2004), pp. 8.69–8.77.
  55. This figure is the difference between the 1,582 million poor single mothers who were owed child support in 2003 and the 562,000 who received full payment. See Bureau of the Census, CPS child support microdata file (see note 52).
  56. Fred Doolittle and others, Building Opportunities, Enforcing Obligations: Implementation and Interim Impacts of Parents’ Fair Share (New York: MDRC, December 1998); John M. Martinez and Cynthia Miller, Working and Earning: The Impact of Parents’ Fair Share on Low-Income Fathers’ Employment (New York: MDRC, October 2000). There were, however, some impacts on employment and earnings for the more disadvantaged fathers, those without a high school diploma or recent work experience.
  57. Ron Blasco, Children First Program: Final Evaluation Report (Madison, Wis.: Department of Workforce Development, November 2000).
  58. Wade F. Horn and Isabel V. Sawhill, “Fathers, Mothers, and Welfare Reform,” in The New World of Welfare: An Agenda for Reauthorization and Beyond, edited by Rebecca M. Blank and Ron Haskins (Brookings, 2001), pp. 425–27; Irving Garfinkel, “Child Support in the New World of Welfare,” in The New World of Welfare, edited by Blank and Haskins, pp. 452–53.
  59. Jane C. Venohr, David A. Price, and Tracy Griffith, “OSCE Responsible Fatherhood Programs: Client Characteristics and Program Outcomes” (Denver: Policy Studies, September 2003).
  60. Doolittle and others, Building Opportunities (see note 56), chap. 2; John Wallace and Stuart Yeh, “Employment Component for the Parents’ Fair Share Demonstration” (New York: MDRC, July 1991); telephone discussion with Fred Doolittle, April 3, 2006.
  61. Cynthia Miller and Virginia Knox, The Challenge of Helping Low-Income Fathers Support Their Children: Final Lessons from Parents’ Fair Share (New York: MDRC, November 2001), pp. 12–16.
  62. Primus, “Improving Public Policies” (see note 30), pp. 238–39. Such an arrangement could apply only to child support debt owed to government, not to debts owed to the family, unless the mother agreed.
  63. Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prison Reentry (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 2005), p. 3; Edelman, Holzer, and Offner, Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (see note 13), p. 25; Holzer, Offner, and Sorenson, “Declining Employment”(see note 5), p. 334, n. 10.
  64. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 34, 94.
  65. Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 112.
  66. Robert Martinson, “What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform,” Public Interest, no. 35 (Spring 1974): 22–54; Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 107–08, 160–62, 168–71; Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home (see note 65), pp. 175–84, 246–47.
  67. Board of Directors, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, Summary and Findings of the National Supported Work Demonstration (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1980).
  68. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 171–74; Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home (see note 65), p. 99.
  69. Amy L. Solomon, Vera Kachnowski, and Avinash Bhati, “Does Parole Work? Analyzing the Impact of Postprison Supervision on Rearrest Outcomes” (Washington: Urban Institute, March 2005); Joan Petersilia and Susan Turner, “Intensive Probation and Parole,” Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 17 (1993): 281–335.
  70. Joshua Good and Pamela Sherrid, “When the Gates Open: Ready4Work: A National Response to the Prisoner Reentry Crisis” (Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, October 2005); and Linda Jucovy, “Just Out: Early Lessons from the Ready4Work Prisoner Reentry Initiative” (Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures, February 2006).
  71. Interview with Jeremy Travis, in New York, N.Y., on July 20, 2006; Petersilia and Turner, “Intensive Probation and Parole” (see note 69), pp. 313–15.
  72. Kleiman, “Coerced Abstinence” (see note 17). Here and in the remainder of this subsection, I largely follow Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 173–76, 179–82.
  73. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 162–64; Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home (see note 65), p. 119.
  74. Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael A. Stoll, “How Do Employer Perceptions of Crime and Incarceration Affect the Employment Prospects of Less-Educated Young Black Men?” in Black Males Left Behind, edited by Mincy (see note 8), chap. 3.
  75. Christopher Jencks, Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty, and the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 127–28.
  76. This account is based on an interview with Peter Cove and Lee Bowes, the managers of America Works, in New York, N.Y., on July 6, 2006; and on William B. Eimicke and Steven Cohen, “America Works’ Criminal Justice Program: Providing Second Chances through Work” (New York: Manhattan Institute, November 2002).
  77. The following is based on an interview with Mindy Tarlow, executive director of CEO, on February 22, 2006; and on Center for Employment Opportunities and MDRC, The Power of Work: The Center for Employment Opportunities Comprehensive Prisoner Reentry Program (New York: Center for Employment Opportunities, March 2006), and other CEO materials.
  78. Data from the Center for Employment Opportunities.
  79. These programs would include the National Supported Work Demonstration, the public jobs components of welfare reform in New York City and Wisconsin, and also the government jobs created under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in the 1970s.
  80. A third possible population would be single men receiving general relief, a nonfederal aid program found in some localities, notably New York City. This group is often subject to work requirements already. See Cori E. Uccello and L. Jerome Gallagher, General Assistance Programs: The State-Based Part of the Safety Net (Washington: Urban Institute, January 1997).
  81. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 162–63; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005 (U.S. Department of Justice, November 2006).
  82. The child support and parolee numbers are at a point in time; many more individuals than this would cycle through these statuses over a year. Around 630,000 ex-offenders leave the prisons annually, a number not far different from the 784,000 parolees in 2005, implying that parole is largely short-term. But the stock at a point in time determines the number of slots needed and thus the scale of the program.
  83. AW’s cost = (0.78 * 1.5 million * $1,160) + (0.78 * 0.44 *1.5 million * $2,088) = $2.43 billion. CEO’s cost = $3,219 * 1.5 million = $4.83 billion.
  84. Reassuringly, the per-slot costs for both AW and CEO fall within the range found for 1980s-era work experience programs for welfare recipients. See Thomas Brock, David Butler, and David Long, “Unpaid Work Experience for Welfare Recipients: Findings and Lessons from MDRC Research” (New York: MDRC, September 1993).
  85. James Riccio, Daniel Friedlander, and Stephen Freedman, GAIN: Benefits, Costs, and Three-Year Impacts of a Welfare-to-Work Program (New York: MDRC, September 1994); and Diana Adams-Ciardullo and others, How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs (New York: MDRC, December 2001).
  86. The CEO study has joint federal government and foundation funding.
  87. The following discussion and cost estimates draw on conversations with researchers at MDRC and officials at the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.
  88. Jason A. Turner and Thomas Main, “Work Experience under Welfare Reform,” in New World of Welfare, edited by Blank and Haskins (see note 58), pp. 299–302. Per-slot costs were below those estimated for AW and CEO because they include only the incremental expense of adding workers to an ongoing agency. The AW and CEO costs include more for supervision and overhead.
  89. U.S. House of Representatives, 2004 Green Book (see note 54), pp. 8.65–8.69; Maureen A. Pirog and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, “Child Support Enforcement: Programs and Policies, Impacts, and Questions,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 25, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 944, 977–78. Child support’s total revenues are about four times its costs, but collections go largely to cases outside welfare.
  90. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “State Prison Expenditures, 2001” (U.S. Department of Justice, June 2004), p. 3. I indexed the 2001 figure of $22,650 to $25,487 in 2005 dollars, using the unadjusted Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers.
  91. Hugh B. Price, “Transitioning Ex-Offenders into Jobs and Society,” Washington Post, April 10, 2006.
  92. Martin Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy (University of Chicago Press, 1999), chaps. 2, 8; Fay Lomax Cook and Edith J. Barrett, Support for the American Welfare State: The Views of Congress and the Public (Columbia University Press, 1992).
  93. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 182–83.
  94. Ronald B. Mincy and Elaine J. Sorenson, “Deadbeats and Turnips in Child Support Reform,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 17, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 44–51; Doolittle and others, Building Opportunities (see note 56), chap. 2.
  95. Office of Child Support Enforcement, “Child Support and Job Projects for Fathers by State” (U.S. Administration for Children and Families, July 27, 2006); conversation with Rob Cohen, U.S. Administration for Children and Families, August 11, 2006.
  96. Travis, But They All Come Back (see note 63), pp. 174, 330; Petersilia, When Prisoners Come Home (see note 65), pp. 172–74; Heather MacDonald, “How to Straighten Out Ex-Cons,” City Journal 13, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 24–37.
  97. Mead, Government Matters (see note 3), chap. 9.