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'LIVING WAGE' ACTIVISTS MISS KEY POINT ON JOBLESS

I'm writing in response to the Dec. 13 News article, "Too many people, too few jobs -- this is welfare reform?" Labor activists protesting the lack of so-called "living wage" jobs in 50 cities nationwide are completely off the mark. With unemployment at a 24-year low, there is no lack of jobs, just a lack of skills.

A look in the classified ads of any major newspaper in the country will reveal any number of jobs paying more than the $13 an hour that these people are seeking. The problem is, very few of those on welfare qualify for these jobs.

Furthermore, the 97-1 odds against a welfare recipient finding a "living wage" job paying $26,000 are too low. It's more like a 500-to-1 shot.

More often than not, people on welfare lack the most basic skills. According to the U.S. Department of Education, up to 44 percent of those on welfare are functionally illiterate. They have trouble filling out a job application or making change for a dollar. Roughly half of them do not have a high school diploma or a General Education Development certificate.

We need to get welfare recipients into the work force at a wage rate that more clearlyreflects their skills. Only then can they gain the experience they need to earn higher wages.

Richard B. Berman
Executive Director
Employment Policies Institute
Washington, D.C.