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WELFARE: Poverty and children -- new doubts about the system

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FOR Yvette Burgos of Boston welfare made it possible to feed and clothe her children -- but just barely. It was hard to scrape by on $378 a month, she says. And if her allotment of food stamps ran out, ``we'd eat Cheerios for three or four days'' until the next month's stamps arrived. Her struggle to stand on her own began in earnest when she read about a state job-training program for welfare clients. After signing up and undergoing 34 weeks of secretarial training, Ms. Burgos was hired by a local company at a salary of $900 a month. Getting that first paycheck ``really made me feel good,'' she says. For the first time, she sent her children back to school this fall with notebooks, pencils, erasers, and binders tucked under their arms.

``They can have things they couldn't have before,'' she says, smiling at the thought.

For Burgos, the welfare system provided relief while she struggled to get on her feet. And it's not surprising that she is an avid fan of Massachusetts' employment-training program, irresistibly called ET.

But public opinion about welfare, and support services like job training, is less enthusiastic. Many Americans doubt these programs have any lasting impact. Others suggest that welfare saps a person's incentive to work.

Indeed, a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times showed that 43 percent of poor people themselves say welfare benefits make them more dependent. More surprising, a whopping 64 percent of the poor surveyed say poor young women often have babies to get welfare, and 60 percent say welfare encourages fathers to leave home so their families can collect benefits. A number of unintended effects

Welfare advocates concede that the system has probably had a number of unintended effects. But they say there is no way to determine how much of the increase in teen-age pregnancy, for instance, can be attributed to welfare and how much is the result of sweeping social changes like the so-called ``sexual revolution.''


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