50 episodes

Each season, we explain the weird, complicated and often unequal American economy — and why some people get ahead and some get left behind. Host Krissy Clark dives into obscure policies and forgotten histories to explain why America is like it is.

The latest season examines the “welfare-to-work industrial complex” and the multi-million dollar companies running today’s for-profit welfare centers.

The Uncertain Hour Marketplace

    • Government
    • 4.7 • 2.2K Ratings

Each season, we explain the weird, complicated and often unequal American economy — and why some people get ahead and some get left behind. Host Krissy Clark dives into obscure policies and forgotten histories to explain why America is like it is.

The latest season examines the “welfare-to-work industrial complex” and the multi-million dollar companies running today’s for-profit welfare centers.

    Chapter 1: The dream

    Chapter 1: The dream

    When a struggling mother of two in Milwaukee hits hard times, she turns to a local welfare office for help — a welfare office outsourced to a private, for-profit company. Inside, staff preach the power of work, place people into unpaid “work experience” and enforce work requirements for welfare recipients, all in the name of teaching self-sufficiency.

    But who’s set to benefit most? That struggling mother or the for-profit company she turned to?

    Host Krissy Clark takes listeners into the world of for-profit welfare companies to examine America’s welfare-to-work system, work requirements and the multimillion-dollar industry that’s grown up around it.

    • 44 min
    Chapter 2: The compliance machine

    Chapter 2: The compliance machine

    A single mother of two in Chicago was working and taking classes to become an addiction counselor when her life fell apart. The father of her youngest child assaulted her so badly it put her in the hospital. Worried for her safety and the safety of her children, she fled to Milwaukee and signed up for welfare, hoping it would live up to the promise of providing employment and self-sufficiency.

    Instead, she ended up in a Kafkaesque maze of “work activities” that didn’t lead to a real job or independence. When her life hits another crisis, things really start to fall apart.

    Host Krissy Clark examines the roots of this cookie-cutter regime and discovers that a fundamental part of the problem lies in how the federal welfare reform bill measures success– in a way that has little to do with whether the program is helping participants gain family-sustaining employment.

    Give today to help cover the costs of this rigorous reporting. Every donation makes a difference!

    https://support.marketplace.org/uncertain-sn

    • 54 min
    Chapter 3: Race and rumor

    Chapter 3: Race and rumor

    In the 1950s, a rumor that people were moving to Newburgh, NY to live off welfare riled up the city. When city leaders essentially declare war on welfare — and the people who get it — things tumble out of control.

    Plus, how national suspicions grew about people getting welfare right as more black people started gaining more access to welfare benefits.

    Host Krissy Clark and producer Peter Balonon-Rosen go back in history to tell a surprising origin story of part of our welfare system — and take a magnifying glass to how our country determines who deserves help and who doesn’t.

    Give today to help cover the costs of this rigorous reporting. Every donation makes a difference!

    https://support.marketplace.org/uncertain-sn

    • 36 min
    Chapter 4: The Battle of Newburgh

    Chapter 4: The Battle of Newburgh

    In 1961, city officials in Newburgh, New York, declared war on their poorest residents by proclaiming, without evidence, that the city was overrun by welfare cheats. It was a moment in history when the belief that certain people need to be forced to work gained influence in our country’s system to help poor people.

    Officials led by City Manager Joseph Mitchell launched a campaign of harsh crackdowns on welfare recipients that included surprise police interrogations, rigid eligibility restrictions and forcing able-bodied men to work to receive a welfare check. But were these new rules designed to reduce welfare fraud or to target members of the city’s Black community? 

    After a national controversy erupted over Newburgh’s welfare rules, the city found  itself at the center of a fight over welfare policy that’s still playing out today.

    Producer Peter Balonon-Rosen takes us back to Newburgh to tell the story of its war on welfare and how race became central in a battle over welfare policy.

    Give today to help cover the costs of this rigorous reporting. Every donation makes a difference!

    https://support.marketplace.org/uncertain-sn

    • 35 min
    Chapter 5: Profits and Perverse Incentives

    Chapter 5: Profits and Perverse Incentives

    Antoine Dukes is a natural born salesman. And when he started working for a for-profit welfare company, he figured it was a good way to put his skills to work helping needy Americans find jobs that would get them back on their feet.

    But when he tried to avoid sending people to minimum wage jobs, something happened that made him realize that these welfare companies are rewarded with taxpayer dollars for getting welfare recipients into just about any job, even if the job would not support their family and would leave them still needing government help to make ends meet. 

    In this episode, host Krissy Cark sheds light on this opaque business model — and has a frank conversation with the founder of America Works, one of the first for-profit welfare-to-work companies in the country. 

    Give today to help cover the costs of this rigorous reporting. Every donation makes a difference!

    https://support.marketplace.org/uncertain-sn

    • 49 min
    Chapter 6: The Welfare to Temp Work Pipeline

    Chapter 6: The Welfare to Temp Work Pipeline

    Since the 1990s, most cash welfare recipients have been required to get a job or do mandated “work activities” to receive their monthly check. These requirements are intended to help parents who are struggling financially into jobs that will help keep them out of poverty and off government benefits. But is the work requirement system meeting either of those goals?

    According to our analysis of data from Wisconsin, an average of nearly 70% of employed welfare participants worked at temp companies. These companies put people to work in other companies, trying to fill temporary jobs where the work is often grueling and the pay low. 

    Welfare-to-work has been so good for temp agencies that some of them actively lobby for more work requirements for government benefits through campaign contributions and white papers. “It gives us a pool of more people we can help,” said the CEO of one temp company whose franchises have ranked among the top 10 employers of Wisconsin welfare participants. “A person loses self-esteem when they don’t go back to work. Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary work is very important for their psyche.”

    On this episode, host Krissy Clark looks at the cozy relationship between for-profit welfare companies and temp companies desperate to put people to work in some of the country’s most precarious jobs. Plus, a frank discussion with an architect of our modern welfare-to-work system, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

    For a deeper dive into the numbers about how private welfare contractors make money and some other eye-popping data, check out the work of our colleagues at APM Research Lab.

    Give today to help cover the costs of this rigorous reporting. Every donation makes a difference!

    • 55 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
2.2K Ratings

2.2K Ratings

Mustnaglover ,

Well done

An excellent podcast I’m eager to listen to

AJM08AZ ,

Great series

Informative and engaging. A must-listen for any U.S. taxpayer.

Tio JibJab ,

Welfare to work

Great episode but it would helpful to research the options, if any, to get people off welfare. We have many families that are generational. welfare as described in the book Random Family written by Andrian Nicole LeBlanc.

Top Podcasts In Government

Strict Scrutiny
Crooked Media
The Lawfare Podcast
The Lawfare Institute
5-4
Prologue Projects
The Chris Plante Show
WMAL | Cumulus Podcast Network | Cumulus Media Washington
The Young Turks
TYT Network
Red Eye Radio
Cumulus Podcast Network

You Might Also Like

Make Me Smart
Marketplace
Marketplace
Marketplace
How We Survive
Marketplace
Marketplace Tech
Marketplace
Throughline
NPR
Marketplace All-in-One
Marketplace

More by American Public Media

Marketplace
Marketplace
Brains On! Science podcast for kids
American Public Media
In The Dark
The New Yorker
Smash Boom Best: A funny, smart debate show for kids and family
American Public Media
Make Me Smart
Marketplace
This Is Uncomfortable
Marketplace