In 1996, President Clinton signed a bill he proclaimed would end welfare as we know it. As a result, New York State implemented the largest unpaid work program in the country, the Work Experience Program (WEP). All welfare recipients were assigned a 35-hour/week job at the minimum wage to pay off their welfare benefit. Neither college classes nor job training counted towards the 35 hours at the time. The program was to provide work experience and a gateway to full-time employment, but in NYC, only 6% of WEP workers were placed in jobs, and it is unclear how permanent even those few jobs were.
For years, women on welfare have been plagued by stereotypes: they’re lazy, they’re “welfare-queens,” they have more children to get more money. The truth is, welfare only lasts for a maximum of 5-years and afterwards, these women are forced out of school and into menial jobs just to keep their heads above water. Low-wage jobs and even a 2-year degree do not change the statistics on poverty. What does work? A 4-year college degree. In fact, here’s what a Report sponsored by Ford Foundation says: “90% of women who get a 4-year degree move permanently off of welfare.”
We wanted to address America’s serious problems with income inequality and huge differences in access to education directly, so we decided to make a documentary on the lives of women who, even while needing public assistance, decided to change their lives via a college degree. We have finally found the right women — and their stories are amazing! Better than we could have dreamed. They are the examples — and inspiration — for others who don’t think of themselves as college material. As one young woman says, “You gotta see it to be it.”
What you will see when this short doc is completed is that these women not only wanted a college degree, but they wanted to engage with and address the issue of unequal access to higher education confronting our country. They are active, informed, caring citizens whose goals extend — beyond just getting their piece of the pie — to the point where our common good and interests meet. That’s something that we, as citizen filmmakers, feel is sorely needed. Let us know what you think.