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September 12 2019

Census Data Reflects Success of Welfare Reform

by Charlotte Hays

My colleague Patrice Onwuka has gone through the new Census data and presented some dazzling figures on a decline in the poverty rate, including and most notably among single-parent households.

Since single-parent households tend to be led by mothers, this means more women are finding work and improving their family’s standards of living.  

I urge you Patrice’s “Good News! Poverty Falls as More Women Work”.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz has also taken a look at the Census figures.

Like Patrice, Kay sees work as the way out of poverty. She further sees welfare reform as one reason that more people (including women) are working. She writes:

A strong Trump-era labor market is one part of this story, but so is the 1996 welfare-reform law. Remember that the Clinton-period law overturned Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which had entitled poor single mothers to cash benefits. As a result, unemployment among the growing number of single mothers was high.

Essentially, welfare reform said no more free lunch, instituting work requirements and replacing open-ended AFDC with a time-limited grant to poor mothers (TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). The idea was to promote self-sufficiency among a group depending almost entirely on government funds instead of a job to feed and house their families, to integrate a subculture of isolated outsiders into the mainstream of clocking in and meeting obligations to colleagues and bosses, and to discipline what appeared to be disordered and neglectful households. 

From today’s vantage point, it’s easy to forget that welfare reform led to a dramatic decrease in welfare rolls, more single mothers in the workplace, and a decline in poverty rates among single-parent families. As time passed, progress seemed to stall; both the public and policymakers lost interest. The Great Recession undid whatever advances had been made, and disillusion with the work-and-save Protestant ethic set in. By the 2016 election, welfare reform was policy non grata; Hillary Clinton avoided it during her presidential run, though her husband had signed the bill during his own reelection campaign.

A new generation of voters, scarred by the Great Recession and perhaps by ill-informed teachers, were cynical. These days, left-leaning younger Americans consider welfare reform a failure or even a disaster, convinced that all of the reforms of the 1990s—from policing to charter schools—prove once and for all the racism and elite self-interest behind “neoliberalism.” It’s a sure thing that none of the Democratic presidential candidates will be flirting with welfare reform anytime soon.

Indeed, it sometimes seems to me that progressives are waging a "war on work," which deprives lives of meaning and creates dependence.

 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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