The welfare system was created to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need—which it does. It creates a cushion for citizens who have fallen into economic hardship. Unfortunately, the stigma and associated destruction of self-esteem that the system creates can leave a person or family perpetually dependent on state assistance for survival. In urban areas, residents on welfare often find themselves clustered together in public housing, such as the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago, where a family's dependence on state assistance can often span up to three generations. In 1985, the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA) recognized the importance of this spiraling trend and created Project Match, a welfare-to-work program designed to address the employment needs of the State's welfare population.
Specifically, the project was created to develop effective strategies to help long-term, inner-city welfare families move toward stable employment and ultimately to self-sufficiency. The creation of realistic programs to meet the individual needs of this "hardest-to-employ" citizenry is a critical public concern for all urban jurisdictions throughout the country, and Chicago has created a model that works.
There are three areas of focus for the project helping clients: returning to school, obtaining training and finding lasting jobs. In each area of focus the project "brokers" its resources to the client, linking them with existing training and education programs, and with private sector jobs. Embracing the reality that leaving welfare is a difficult process, the project maintains a long-term commitment, while it creates attainable, short-term goals. This allows the ultimate goal, self-sufficiency, to be seen as the end of a series of incremental "steps" and not as a far-off dream.
Particular instances of the project's efforts give a view of the support it provides to the community. A teen mother who dropped out of school during pregnancy is connected with day-care resources and then the project intervenes on her behalf with the school in order to assure re-registration. The project then follows up by calling her to inquire about her classes and grades. Another client has just lost her job as a cashier and is expressing frustration. The project supports her by giving her more training, finding her another job, and reminding her that this is only a short-term setback--a first job is only that, a first job. The individualized and comprehensive support makes the project successful.
The most significant impact of the program is in job retention. While 69 percent of clients are placed within 6 months of enrollment, 62 percent lose the job within 6 months. However, 64 percent of those who lose the first job, find another in less than 3 months, and keep the second job 40 percent longer than the first. Overall, the program's clients worked an average of 4.7 months in their first year, earning $4.45 per hour, and 6.7 months in their second, earning $5.35 per hour. These figures indicate a methodical progression to self-sufficiency. The clients are slowly gaining the discipline and skills they need to compete in the open job market.
The program's transferability is high; its creation was part of a broader program, Project Chance, which was created to address the welfare dependence problem nationwide. With transferability as a goal from the outset, the basic services of Project Match are packaged into two different replication systems: one that is marketed to community-based employment programs serving on a voluntary basis and the other is marketed to government welfare agencies operating mandatory programs. Both replication packages include "how-to" materials and a computerized tracking system. This affiliation created a secondary goal to "conceptualize and articulate the implementation process in detail so that others can learn from or replicate Project Match methods." Indeed, while Project Match is a local solution for Chicago's local welfare recipients, Project Chance recognized it as an innovative solution to a problem for all of the United States' metropolitan areas.