Beating the "unemployable" with a stick: The effect of economic incentives on unemployed immigrants and their social welfare workers
This study examines the impact of a Danish policy change that intended to 'make work pay' for married immigrant women receiving social assistance. According to new regulations adopted in 2006, married social benefit recipients in jobless households were required to work 300 hours within a two year period in order to remain eligible for social assistance. In the case of non-compliance, one spouse would lose the benefit entitlements (about 18,000? yearly). We have some evidence that the new rules did have an impact, but the central question of this paper is how economic incentives may influence the labour market integration of groups with low employability? In order to answer this question I pursue a qualitative research approach contrasting two theoretical explanations. One that relates to the effect on the immigrant women, and another that focuses on changes in the behaviour of social welfare workers. The analysis suggests that the strong economic incentives did speed up job search efforts and made these women less choosy, but due to employment barriers, it was often difficult to 'transform' the increased job wish into employment. Moreover, this policy intensified the cross-pressure of social welfare workers which fostered an atmosphere of emergency and a break with past coping-behaviour. All in all this study questions the impact of economic incentives towards groups with low employability, but highlights the potential role of social welfare workers.
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