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Remarks Launching the Welfare to Work Partnership

May 20, 1997

Thank you, George Stinson, for your wonderful introduction, your remarks, and most importantly, for your very, very powerful example. I thank the Governors, Tom Carper and Tommy Thompson, my former colleagues and friends, for being here and for the power of their example. I thank the Members of Congress, and most of all, I thank all the business leaders who are here, Gerry Greenwald and the leaders of the other companies that were with us when we just had 5, and all of you who are part of our first 105. Thank you all.

And I want to say a special word of thanks to my friend Eli Segal. He'd be a lot richer man if he'd never met me. [Laughter] But I have made him America's reigning expert in public startups. [Laughter] He is truly the father of AmeriCorps, the national service program that I love. And I can say, as I've been around the country now for nearly 4 1/2 years, more people have come up to me and said of AmeriCorps, "That changed my life for the better," than anything I have done as President, except now this will be more numerous.

Because now—you know, Eli and I were just sitting around talking one day, and he said, "Now, what can I do for you now?" And I said, "Well, we passed this welfare reform law," and I said, "I really believe in it, but I mean, you know, there's no way in the world we're going to get there. We've got the deficit, we've got to balance the budget, and we can't possibly meet the hiring targets of the welfare reform law unless we can organize the private sector and maximize in every State all the options to give people incentives to hire people in the private sector to move people from welfare to work. Oh, we can get a little money to put into the very high unemployment areas for the community service jobs, and Congress has agreed to do that, but we've got to have the private sector." And he said, "We can do that." Then he found Gerry and the other first 4 that were here, who are here in the audience, and then there were 100, and soon there will be 1,000. And I thank you all very much.

I would like to talk about this today, a little bit, from my perspective as President, but first let me say that I respect the fact that those of you who come here, come here as Americans. You come here primarily as business people. Some of you are Republicans; some of you are Democrats; some of you probably wish you had never met a politician. [Laughter] But you all recognize that this is not a partisan issue, that it is a moral obligation for our country. It is America's business, and therefore, it must be the work of American business.

How did we get this goal of moving a million people from welfare to work by the year 2000? How did you get here to make a difference, as you can, as you saw from the young women who have been introduced here, to help people to move from a lifetime of dependence to one of independence, to move from burdening their children with a legacy of despair to leaving their children with an inheritance of hope? Well, it all goes back to the effort we have made now as a nation. Some of us, as you heard the Governors talking, have been involved with this welfare reform issue a long time.

But when I became President, I was convinced that we had to change both the economic policy and the social policy of the country if we wanted America to work again for everyone; that we had to do something to get the deficit down and expand trade and, at the same time, invest more money in education and science and technology and research and the things that would grow the economy; but that we had to prove that America could work again in a fundamental human way. So we had to deal with crime. We had to deal with our great diversity and get people to come together across the lines that divide us and a stronger community. We had to deal with the conflicts people feel with family and work, that working people are having trouble raising their kids too and meeting their obligations at work.

And a big part of this mosaic was to change the culture of dependency that had arisen around our welfare system. There was lots of evidence that nobody really liked the welfare system very much, especially the people that were on it. There was also, frankly, a lot of evidence that, for about half the people that were on it, it worked reasonably well, just because for those people, you'd have to practically throw them up against a wall to stop them from doing all right in life—people that hit a rough patch in life, and they'd be on public assistance and they'd go on. But increasingly, to the point where we wound up with slightly more than half of the people on welfare were long-term dependents who felt it literally unable to come back into the mainstream of American life.

Well, we've seen a lot of progress in the last few years, and a lot of it's been helped by the fact that we've got the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, and for the first time ever, our economy produced about 12 million jobs in a 4-year administration period. In that time, the welfare rolls had their biggest reduction ever in that short a period of time. And so I began to think, well, maybe we can make the welfare reform targets. And then I realized—I asked the Council of Economic Advisers to study this, and I said, "How much of this welfare decline is due to the economy doing better, and how much of it is due to the fact that most States now are really working hard on welfare reform with us? They've gotten waivers from the Federal Government to get out from under rules and regulations and move people to work."

And the study indicated that about 40 percent—a little more—of the people moved from welfare to work because the economy got better and just—the labor markets got tighter. About over a third, more or less, got there because most States were aggressively working with us either statewide or in parts of their States on welfare reform, and about a quarter got there for some other reason. But one of the reasons was that child support collections were increased by 50 percent in the last 4 years.

So then we said, "Okay, let's change. Let's go another step. Let's tell people that if they're able-bodied, they can only have 5 years of welfare over the course of a lifetime and no more than 2 years at one time, and let's give the States responsibility and the power and the money to design, State by State, a welfare reform system that will work and, in effect, will have to be designed community by community." That was the import of the welfare reform law. And in that law, as the Congressman here will tell you, they set up very strict targets. But essentially, about 40 percent of the population has to be fully into this law over the next 4 years. That's how we got to this burden you're undertaking, because I want all of you who signed on to understand what is at stake here.

Now, what that means, bottom line, is that we have to move about another 900,000 to one million people in the work force in the next 4 years to meet the requirements of the law, which will move about 2 1/2 million people off welfare, because the average welfare family is about 2.5, 2.6, something like that.

Now, if we produce another 12 million jobs, we'll get close anyway. But it would be the first time in history that we ever did it 8 years in a row, since we've only done it once 4 years in a row, and we just came out of that. Maybe we can do it. And I'd be the last to say we couldn't. But even if we did that—here's the point I want to make—even if we did that, if we don't have people like this man and like all of you, the people who would come off would be those who might make it off under any circumstances. And what we are trying to do here, the import of the reform welfare law, was to change, challenge, and end the culture of poverty, which means you have to find people who don't think they can make it, who have no idea what a resume is, who never had to show up on time before. There are people in this audience today who have helped find people like that before, and I wish all of you who have actually hired people from welfare to work were up here speaking today.

But what this is about is saying that we are going to go beyond what the normal economy would produce; we're going to make an extra effort. And the Government will do its part, but it has to be led by the private sector.

Now, in April the Vice President and I announced that we would hire at least 10,000 welfare recipients in the next 4 years without replacing anybody, just through job turnover, in an area where we will expand employment, which I think is a pretty good thing in a Federal Government that's 300,000 people smaller than it was 4 years ago when I took office. We'll do 10,000. And with the help of Secretary Slater and some of our other Cabinet Secretaries, we're going to work with our private contractors, the people that do direct business with us, to hire 10,000 more. And we believe we can do that.

When we reached the budget agreement— historic budget agreement with the leaders of Congress to balance the budget, it not only will give us the first balanced budget in almost 30 years, it contains the elements that we agree jointly should be a part of our contribution to your welfare reform effort. So let me mention them.

First, it provides, as I said earlier, $3 billion to help cities and States to create jobs and subsidize jobs, either community service jobs or subsidized private sector jobs. That money will be targeted to very high unemployment areas where you cannot reasonably expect any effort to deal with the time deadlines.

Second, it encourages employers to hire and retain welfare recipients by giving a 50 percent tax credit over 2 years for up to $10,000 in wages for every long-term welfare recipient hired that does not displace someone else.

Now, these two things will help. But in addition to that, we have other big problems. One of the biggest problems that we think we need to get more help on is transportation. You heard Governor Carper talking about child care. There's $4 billion more in the welfare reform bill for child care. But there was a study that came out of Georgia recently which said that of the entry-level jobs in the inner city in fast food establishments, for example, something like, I don't know, 80 percent of the jobs were held by people who were low-income adults. In the suburbs, just a little more than half of those jobs were held by people who were lowincome adults. The transportation barrier kept them from maximizing their ability to move from dependence to independence.

So since two out of three new jobs are created in the suburbs and a significant percentage of people on welfare live in urban centers, it is very important that we do more on that. Today, we're awarding seed grants to 24 States to develop transportation schemes to help people go and get the jobs where the jobs are. And the legislation that we proposed in the new transportation bill would provide $600 million to help States and local communities put these plans into action. It also was approved in the budget agreement, so that's a very, very good thing.

And let me just say one other thing since we've got two very innovative Governors here, and Governor Thompson, as you've seen— they've had a huge drop in Wisconsin and a sizeable drop in Delaware. If you look around the country, there's still a lot of unevenness in how much the welfare rolls have dropped. Part of it is due to underlying economic conditions. But part of it is due to how comprehensive the efforts are.

One of the things that I think is important is that the States really do get together and steal the best ideas from each other. You should know that among other things, the States now have the power under this new law to take what was the welfare check and give all or part of it to an employer for a period of time as an employment or training subsidy. And a lot of States are doing that as well. There are lots of options out there.

So I want to say to all of you who are part of this first hundred, you have to work with the Governors and with the State legislators, too, and with the mayors and the communitybased operators. We've got to have a system here that's community based.

Finally, let me say that if you look at the numbers, a million people sounds like a huge amount over 4 years, but in an American economy that has well over 100 million people in the work force, that produced 12 million new jobs in the last 4 years, with these extra incentives around the edges, with committed private sector employers, small, medium, and large businesses, this is not a problem. This is a startup enterprise that can be stunningly successful. But as far as I know, there is no exact precedent for it in our history. There has never been anything quite like this, and this is something we're trying to do together. I will do my best to do my part, but I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart, starting with Eli and Gerry and encompassing all of you, for doing your part.

You know, I've tried to learn about what a lot of you are doing. And Mr. Marriott here has this Pathways to Independence program that supports the transition from welfare to work. I've seen that. Then I meet a man with a small business, and more than half his employees are people who were on welfare. We were in Kansas City not very long ago, and I met a man who stores data for the Federal Government, way out in Kansas City—that's what computers do for you these days—and he had 25 people in his business, in this data storage business, and 5 of them were people that he had hired from the welfare rolls. Every time he expands now, he tries to hire somebody from welfare.

I know we can do this. I just want to say to you, when you leave here today I want you to imagine what it is you would like your country to look like when we enter the 21st century. There will always be people who, for one reason or another, are out of work. There will always be people who, for one reason or another, have a rough spot in life. And as long as we're a nation of immigrants, there will always be people who start out below whatever the federally established poverty line is. But we do not have to have a country with an intolerable crime rate, with an intolerable failure rate among young people in poverty and addiction and violence. And we do not have to have a country with a permanent culture of dependence. We do not have to have that.

We just had this Service Summit in Philadelphia where we said, "We're all going to get together, without regard to party, try to give every child in America five things, a healthy start in life, a safe place to grow up, a decent education, a mentor with a caring adult, and a chance to serve and give something back, no matter how modest the child's resources are."

I'll tell you, we could do more to get that done by liberating their parents from the culture of dependence than anything else. You are making the America we ought to have for the 21st century. And I hope when you leave here today, you'll be even more dedicated to it, because the future of our children is riding on it.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:50 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to George R. Stinson, chairman and president, General Converters and Assemblers, Inc.; Gov. Tom Carper of Delaware; Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin; Gerald Greenwald, chief executive officer, United Airlines; Eli Segal, president, Welfare to Work Partnership; and J.W. Marriott, Jr., chairman, president, and chief executive officer, Marriott International, Inc.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Launching the Welfare to Work Partnership Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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