ET, Phone Home


Two years ago, Michael Dukakis hyped his "workfare" program, Employment and Training Choices, or ET, as a shining success story of the "Massachusetts Miracle." Now a study issued by the Pioneer Institute in Boston portrays ET as a hopeless boondoggle that encourages dependence on, not independence from, welfare programs.

ET gives welfare mothers job training, child care, and medical care. The state has committed more than $240 million in state and $84 million in federal tax funds to the program since its inception in 1983. ET's supporters contend it has saved the state's taxpayers $280 million by placing 67,000 workers in jobs the past six years. Study author June O'Neill says this claim assumes that none of the recipients would have found jobs themselves. Yet before ET, the study notes, more than 4,000 people left the welfare rolls each month.

O'Neill also reports that from 1978 to 1983 the number of female-headed families with children in Massachusetts receiving AFDC payments declined by 25 percent. But from 1983 to 1988, with ET and its basket of benefits, the number of AFDC cases dropped by only 3 percent. She notes that "this was a period of economic boom for Massachusetts and most of the Northeast"—and that the number of people on the welfare rolls in neighboring states dropped much more quickly than in the Bay State.

The report also criticizes ET's contracting program with private job counselors. Since the state gives job trainers extra pay when they place AFDC recipients in permanent jobs, the trainers tend to seek out participants who could probably find work without the state's help.

O'Neill concludes that while the Dukakis administration touts ET as a success, "these claims appear to be gross exaggerations."