Since making the leap from welfare to work two years ago, Tami Buddi has put a lot of miles on her aging family sedan. To collect child-support payments from her former boyfriend, she drove to the county courthouse in a nearby suburb of Minneapolis. To keep appointments with her job counselor, she drove to a second county office. To apply for subsidized health insurance, she drove to a third site, clutching a thick application and a sheaf of payroll stubs. No one told her about federal training grants, so she found a night school on her own, which meant more time behind the wheel every week. All this while working full time as a bill collector and raising a 10-year-old daughter by herself.
In an aging St. Paul neighborhood known as Frogtown, at a storefront social-services agency called Lifetrack Resources, Tina Thompson and Angela Fink are meeting one afternoon to discuss the impoverished clients they are trying to move into the world of work. There is Zainab, an Ethiopian refugee who arrived in the United States with poor English and rusty clerical skills, but who will graduate this spring from an accounting program and almost certainly land a good office job. There is Ginny, pregnant and recently laid off, but eager to plunge back into the job market as soon as she can update her résumé. And then there is Cassandra, who has washed out of several jobs and vocational schools since dropping out of high school at 17.