The new national welfare reform law, passed in August, has a title right out of Horatio Alger: "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act." The law is supposed to realize President Clinton's 1992 campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it," by shifting welfare recipients into jobs. But the law has a major flaw conveniently downplayed by politicians who claim to welcome the shift: it's far easier to require people to work than it is to produce jobs, especially jobs they can handle. The new law has also sent chills down the spines of many local social service workers who predict that it may drive some people to desperate measures such as crime and violence.
In New Mexico, the first stumbling block is that there aren't enough jobs to go around. The state Labor Department just reported that the state's unemployment rate was 7 percent in July, the fifth highest in the country. "The million dollar question" is whether enough jobs for all welfare recipients can be found, state Deputy Secretary for Human Services Gene Lovato said. Under the new law, the 8,000 people coming off welfare during the first year will be vying with 50,000 already unemployed. They'll be fighting over only half as many job openings—28,000 statewide.
Santa Fe's unemployment rate, at 4 percent, is lower than the state average, and here there are jobs to be had. Last year, the labor department filled only three-quarters of the Santa Fe jobs listed with it. But the city has its own special problems. First, most of the jobs that do exist don't pay enough for a family to live on. Of those currently listed, 30 percent fall into the low-pay, no-benefits, clerical, retail or restaurant categories. Also, many of the jobs are only seasonal. The second largest category listed is construction work, at 29 percent. Only half of the jobs listed are called "permanent," and even that is a misnomer. It only means a job that will last at least 150 days.
The new law may entice employers to drive wages down further. Until now, with unemployment low in Santa Fe, employers have had an incentive to raise wages.
This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. The unemployment rate in New Mexico now ranks 15th in the country at 6.5 percent.