President Trump has made a lot of headlines with promises to “bring jobs back” and get people “off welfare and into jobs.”

Are these promises realistic? What will it take to get people who have left the labor force, or never entered it, working?

The first problem is the so-called welfare cliff. Research from the Illinois Policy Institute details the welfare cliff experienced by single-parent, two-children households and two-parent, two-children households in Cook, Lake and St. Clair counties, and the city of Chicago. This is just an example, there are many other such charts which vary in minor ways depending on location, family circumstances, etc.

The second problem is skills, or rather the lack of them. Picking on Chicago for the simple reason of consistency with the welfare cliff study above, we find that 37% of adults have low or limited literacy skills (level 1 or below on the PIAAC scale). This means 5th. grade skills or less – almost all can read a little, but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child. On a national basis, the most recent data I could find shows about 25% for unemployed or out of labor force adults, 18% overall at level 1 or below.

This, of course, says nothing about job-related skills or numeracy. Nothing good, anyway.

Just bringing back jobs is not going to fix either of these problems.

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