Economic Opportunity is not a Zero Sum Game
Mayor Bloomberg has appointed a new Welfare Commissioner: Robert Doar, former Governor George E. Pataki's social services commissioner. Doar will take the helm of a commission responsible for serving New Yorkers who receive public assistance--a commission that is also in charge of implementing much of Mayor Bloomberg's sweeping new economic opportunity program.
Recent news accounts quote people saying Robert Doar is straightforward, knowledgeable, hard-working and no-nonsense. Seems to me the credential this job requires is openness to innovation. How open is our City's next Welfare Commissioner capable of being to innovative solutions aimed at ending the cycles of low-paying jobs and too-weak social supports that trap 1 in 5 New Yorkers in poverty?
For too long, welfare policy in New York City has placed emphasis on getting people off the welfare rolls and into jobs, without enacting smart and innovative policy aimed at connecting people to the training and education programs that will actually allow them to land the jobs that will move permanently off welfare. Robert Doar, as well as Mayor Bloomberg's entire campaign to increase economic opportunity, marks a needed change in the city's anti-poverty policy.
In my own experience, I was able to move permanently off public assistance two years after starting my college degree program at Hunter. If breaking the cycle of poverty is truly Doar's goal, he must build systems that reflect the fact that education and training are important tools for families to move out of poverty. For example, recent studies have shown that when parents enroll in college, their children begin to do better in school. The studies also show when parents get college degrees and attain the economic security, their children's financial prospects are also greatly enhanced. Doar and other policymakers need to remember that 88 percent of women on welfare who are heads of households move permanently out of poverty once they finish their college degree.
New York City needs a Welfare Commissioner who understands that increasing access to education and training is imperative in any successful anti-poverty program. Economic opportunity is not a zero sum game. Clearly, economic opportunity should not be a boom for some and a bust for others. Most of us believe that economic opportunity is the goal. It's in incoming-Commissioner Doar's - not to mention the city's - best interest to pursue public welfare policy that recognizes the need for robust and accessible training and education programs as an important part of any anti-poverty program, enhancing economic opportunity for all us.