Welfare reform was working so good. Why did we have to abandon it? Look at this article from 2003.
Six years ago, President Bill Clinton signed legislation overhauling part of the nation’s welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193) replaced the failed social program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with a new program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The reform legislation had three goals: (1) to reduce welfare dependence and increase employment; (2) to reduce child poverty; and (3) to reduce illegitimacy and strengthen marriage.
At the time of its enactment, liberal groups passionately denounced the welfare reform legislation, predicting that it would result in substantial increases in poverty, Hunger, and other social ills. Contrary to these alarming forecasts, welfare reform has been effective in meeting each of its goals.
- Overall poverty, child poverty, and black child poverty have all dropped substantially
Although liberals predicted that welfare reform would push an additional 2.6 million persons into poverty, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reports there are 3.5 million fewer people living in poverty today than there were in 1995 (the last year before the reform).
- Some 2.9 million fewer children live in poverty today than in 1995
- Decreases in poverty have been greatest among black children
In fact, the poverty rate for black children is now at the lowest point in U.S. history. There are 1.2 million fewer black children in poverty today than there were in the mid-1990s.
- Hunger among children has been cut roughly in half
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are 420,000 fewer hungry children today than at the time welfare reform was enacted.
- welfare caseloads have been cut nearly in half
and employment of the most disadvantaged single mothers has increased from 50 percent to 100 percent.
- The explosive growth of out-of-wedlock childbearing has come to a virtual halt
The share of children living in single-mother families has fallen, and the share living in married-couple families has increased, especially among black families.
Some attribute these positive trends to the strong economy in the late 1990s. Although a strong economy contributed to some of these trends, most of the positive changes greatly exceed similar trends that occurred in prior economic expansions. The difference this time is welfare reform.
welfare reform has substantially reduced welfare’s rewards for non-work, but much more remains to be done. When TANF is reauthorized next year, federal work requirements should be strengthened to ensure that states require all able-bodied parents to engage in a supervised job search, community service work, or skills training as a condition of receiving aid. Even more important, Congress must recognize that the most effective way to reduce child poverty and increase child well-being is to increase the number of stable, productive marriages. In the future, Congress must take active steps to reduce welfare dependence by rebuilding and strengthening marriage.
Six years ago, when the welfare reform legislation was signed into law, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) proclaimed the new law to be “the most brutal act of social policy since reconstruction.”1 He predicted, “Those involved will take this disgrace to their graves.”2
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, declared the new reform law an “outrage…that will hurt and impoverish millions of American children.” The reform, she said, “will leave a moral blot on [Clinton's] presidency and on our nation that will never be forgotten.”3
child poverty nationwide by 12 percent…make children hungrier…[and] reduce the incomes of one-fifth of all families with children in the nation.4
The Urban Institute issued a widely cited report predicting that the new law would push 2.6 million people, including 1.1 million children, into poverty. In addition, the study announced the new law would cause one-tenth of all American families, including 8 million families with children, to lose income.5
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities asserted the new law would increase the number of children who are poor and “make many children who are already poor poorer still…. No piece of legislation in U.S. history has increased the severity of poverty so sharply [as the welfare reform will].”6
Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, stated that the new welfare law “places 12.8 million people on welfare at risk of sinking further into poverty and homelessness.”7
Peter Edelman, husband of Marian Wright Edelman and then Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned from the Clinton Administration in protest over the signing of the new welfare law. In an article entitled “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done,” Edelman dubbed the new law “awful” policy that would do “serious injury to American children.”8
Peter Edelman believed the reform law would not merely throw millions into poverty, but also would actively worsen virtually every existing social problem. “There will be more malnutrition and more crime, increased infant mortality, and increased drug and alcohol abuse,” claimed Edelman. “There will be increased family violence and abuse against children and women.” Moreover, the bill would fail even in the simple task of “effectively” promoting work because “there simply are not enough jobs now.”9
In the six years since the welfare reform law was enacted, social conditions have changed in exactly the opposite direction from that predicted by liberal policy organizations. As noted above, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, poverty of single mothers, and child Hunger have declined substantially. Employment of single mothers increased dramatically, and welfare rolls plummeted. The share of children living in single-mother families fell, and — more important — the share of children living in married-couple families grew, especially among black families.10
Opponents of reform would like to credit many of these positive changes to a “good economy.” However, according to their predictions in 1996 and 1997, liberals expected the welfare reform law to have disastrous results during good economic times. They expected reform to increase poverty substantially even during periods of economic growth; if a recession did occur, they expected that far greater increases in poverty than those mentioned above would follow. Thus, it is disingenuous for opponents to argue in retrospect that the good economy was responsible for the frustration of pessimistic forecasts since the predicted dire outcomes were expected to occur even in a strong economy.
Since the enactment of welfare reform in 1996, the poverty rate has fallen from 13.8 percent in 1995 to 11.7 percent in 2001. Liberals predicted that welfare reform would push an additional 2.6 million people into poverty, but there are actually 3.5 million fewer people living in poverty today than there were when the welfare reform law was enacted.11
Less Child poverty
The child poverty rate has fallen from 20.8 percent in 1995 to 16.3 percent in 2001. In 1995, there were 14.6 million children in poverty compared with 11.7 million in 2001. Though liberals predicted that welfare reform would throw more than 1 million additional children into poverty, there are some 2.9 million fewer children living in poverty today than there were when welfare reform was enacted.12
Less Black Child poverty
The decline in poverty since welfare reform has been particularly dramatic among black children. As Chart 1 shows, for a quarter-century prior to welfare reform, there was little change in black child poverty. Black child poverty was actually higher in 1995 (41.5 percent) than in 1971 (40.4 percent).
With the enactment of welfare reform in 1996, black child poverty plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling by more than a quarter to 30.0 percent in 2001. Over a six-year period after welfare reform, 1.2 million black children were lifted out of poverty. In 2001, despite the recession, the poverty rate for black children was at the lowest point in national history.13
Less Poverty Among Children of Single Mothers
Since the enactment of welfare reform, the drop in child poverty among children in single-mother families has been equally dramatic. For a quarter-century before welfare reform, there was little net decline in poverty in this group. poverty was only slightly lower in 1995 (50.3 percent) than it had been in 1971 (53.1 percent). After the enactment of welfare reform, the poverty rate for children of single mothers fell at a dramatic rate, from 50.3 percent in 1995 to 39.8 percent in 2001. In 2001, despite the recession, the poverty rate for children in single-mother families was at the lowest point in U.S. history.14
Dramatic Reduction in Child Hunger
The number of children who are “hungry” has been cut roughly in half since the enactment of welfare reform, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA reports that in 1995, the year before welfare reform was enacted, 887,000 children were hungry; by 2001, the number had fallen to 467,000.15 In percentage terms, the numbers fell from 1.3 percent of children in 1995 to 0.6 percent in 2001. Overall, there are more than 400,000 fewer hungry children today than at the time welfare reform was enacted. (See Chart 2.)
Decrease in “Severe poverty”
Liberals predicted that welfare reform would increase “the severity of poverty.” However, the number of children living in “deep poverty” has declined appreciably. (Families in “deep poverty” have incomes that are less than half the poverty income level.) In 1995, there were 5.9 million children living in deep poverty; by 2001, the number had fallen to 5.1 million.16