Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Stunning Victory of the Welfare Reformers

Click here for AmazonThe New Sisyphus blog is an outstanding new journal authored by an anonymous member of the State Department. His initial post recaps the pitched battle that preceded the enactment of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and its underpublicized results.

At that time, legislators on the left acted as "Welfare Advocates", who for decades espoused an unyielding viewpoint that the war on poverty has failed solely because of underfunding, even though benefits, eligibility, programs and spending increased dramatically over the years.

Conversely, legislators on the right could be termed "Welfare Reformers", who believed that the central tenets of welfare expansion were fundamentally flawed: that they created a "culture of dependence" that increased poverty and illegitimacy.

...It was this key point—the creation of a dependence culture... that formed the centerpiece of the debate. Rather than lift people’s lives by lifting their income, the fact of welfare worked against the values so central to middle class success in the United States. This fact of dependence created a social class with interests and values set against the mainstream, thus dooming generation after generation to poverty.

The 1996 Act and its Aftermath

In the end, the Welfare Reformers won the debate, not least because their views were very much more in line with the mainstream of American opinion...

...[the Act meant] the days of sitting around waiting for one’s welfare check from the government were over... While members of Congress like Charlie Rangel were loudly telling anyone who would listen (and the MSM being the MSM that meant everyone) that the Republicans had just doomed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of children to lives of poverty, the hard work of implementing the 1996 Act’s mandates slowing got off the ground.

The result of welfare reform has been nothing less than astounding, if not awe inspiring.

...Heather Mac Donald’s 2002 City Journal piece, Don’t Mess With Welfare Reform’s Success, best summarized the Act’s historic accomplishments:

“Congress’s [1996 Act] wager paid off handsomely. Asked to look for work in exchange for their welfare checks, hundreds of thousands of women found jobs. From 1996 to 1999, employment among the nation’s never-married mothers rose 40 percent. In 1992, only 38 percent of young single mothers worked; by March 2000, 60 percent of that group were employed. Another large portion of the caseload, faced with new participation requirements, simply decided that welfare was not worth the hassle. The result: a 52 percent drop in the caseload since August 1996, when TANF passed, to June 2001. Nearly 2.3 million families have left the rolls.

Sealing the reformers’ triumph, poverty has plummeted in tandem with welfare use. As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institute reports, by 1999 child poverty among female-headed households had fallen to its lowest rate ever. Most notably, black children are now better off economically than at any time on record. So much for the myth that welfare is essential to keeping people from want.”

The fact that the Act spurred the largest reduction in black child poverty ever on record in the US and that literally millions of poor families have entered the middle class is one of Conservatism’s greatest victories since the rise of Ronald Reagan, which probably goes a long way to explaining why it mysteriously has disappeared from the pages of the MSM. In the end, though, one thing is clear: it was the fact of dependence by itself which bred pathologies and irresponsible behavior. When the fact of dependency ended, most welfare recipients were faced with the sort of real-life difficult questions that are every day issues for the bulk of the middle class. And when faced with those decisions, most people adapted their circumstances in such a way as to succeed within the new milieu...

What are the ramifications of welfare reform for U.S./E.U. relations? Read the whole thing: Welfare Reform, Dependence Theory and U.S.-E.U Relations

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