By 1998, nearly 40,000 New Yorkers were assigned to WEP, cleaning parks, streets, city office buildings, sanitation garages, and doing a wide range of clerical tasks… Getting rid of WEP does not mean stopping helping poor people enter the labor market. It means starting to do so, without exploiting welfare recipients and without displacing existing paid workers with unpaid labor. Today, in the state legislature, two bills introduced by State Senator Diane Savino would abolish unpaid “work experience programs” for welfare recipients in the State of New York. Savino and Wright’s bills cut through the ruse: “The work experience program provides public agencies and nonprofit organizations a pool of unpaid labor, resulting in the displacement of full time workers.This bill would eradicate that practice.” The bills buck the trend of dressing up the spread of unpaid labor throughout the economy in nice words and noble sentiments. It pushes the state to provide real opportunities to welfare recipients even while expanding opportunities for everyone else. There can, after all, be no entry-level jobs for anyone if they are all being done by unpaid workers. Indeed, WEP has a dreadful record of moving people to stable employment. It is not meant to do so: it is meant, instead, to get the city’s work done on the cheap and to deter people from applying for aid in the first place.
John Krinsky in Ending the Worst of Workfare (Warscapes)