Did Welfare Reform Work?


This week, the New York Times Retro Report puts a spotlight on President Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Given the appealing monica (see what I did there!) Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, a Democratic president signed into law what was, up until that point, a conservative wet dream. With clueless pride President Clinton announced that “today, we are ending welfare as we know it.”

Why did we do this? Well, mostly because of myth promoted by Ronald Reagan and others on the right that so-called Welfare Queens (read black women) were bilking the system and the good will of the taxpayers in order to live high on the hog on welfare. Were there folks who abused the system? Of course. But the overwhelming majority of welfare recipients sincerely needed the help. In politics, however, facts do not get in the way of a good photo-op. So a guaranteed cash stipend was ended. States were given autonomy, and a god forbid you happen to be in a conservative state when you are in need of help.

At first, the illusion that Welfare Reform was working was perpetuated by the relatively strong economy. Millions of welfare recipients were able to get off of the rolls and find jobs. This was short-lived, however. Once the economy collapsed at the turn of the century, those very same people were in trouble.

Further smoke and mirrors included the seemingly objective decline in welfare rolls since passage of Welfare Reform. This is a bogus measure from the start. Those denied welfare were not necessarily Welfare Queens. According to the documentary, only 23% of qualified poor people receive benefits. People aren’t dropping from the roles because they are now responsible workers. They are simply being dropped from the roles regardless of their status.

The biggest con, however, is a retrospective President Clinton claiming that he did not foresee what would ultimately happen with his Welfare Reform bill. Really? He simply wasn’t looking. Criticism of his policy were loud and clear about the consequences at that time. He knew exactly what he was doing, namely making a politically adventageous move during an election year.

Look, if you want to require poor people to get jobs in order to qualify for welfare, you must make sure that jobs are always available. Unless you are going to require employers to hire people, then a federal jobs program is necessary. Short of that, so-called welfare to work policies will always fail in the long run.

Click the link below to see the documentary referenced.


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