Very low-income Californians who supplement their incomes with CalWORKs cash assistance to help make ends meet may soon find themselves in a bind. Under new rules put in place by the July 2009 budget agreement, many more parents will have to fully meet CalWORKs work participation requirements starting July 2011. If they don’t, their kids’ cash assistance will be cut in half. Parents in two-parent families will have to work at total of at least 35 hours per week, and single parents will be required to work at least 32 hours per week to avoid the CalWORKs grant cut.
It’s unrealistic to expect families to meet these new requirements given that the average US worker’s weekly hours were at a historic low in September. Nationally, “rank and file” private sector workers, who make up approximately 80 percent of the private sector labor force, worked an average of 33 hours per week in September 2009 – tied with June 2009 as the shortest workweek since record keeping began in 1964. While comparable California data are not available, the trend is likely similar here given the record-high level of underemployment in our state. These grim statistics are not likely to improve much by 2011 when the new CalWORKs rules take effect. Many economists believe we’re in store for another jobless recovery, and recent forecasts expect California’s jobless rate will remain in the double-digits at least through 2011. Even if parents do find jobs in this tough labor market, they may not get enough hours to meet CalWORKs requirements, making it likely that many families will see an important source of income slashed in half if the new rules are implemented.
— Alissa Anderson and Scott Graves