July 18, 2006


How welfare reform changed America (Richard Wolf, 7/17/06, USA TODAY)

When Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, conservatives celebrated and liberals screamed; three administration officials quit their jobs in protest. The act ended a 60-year-old federal guarantee of cash aid for the poor.

The law, modeled on state pilot programs begun in 1994 with federal approval, was intended to prod welfare mothers and fathers into the workplace with a series of carrots and sticks. Work, and you got help with child care, job training, transportation. Refuse, and you risked sanctions and being cut off by time limits.

A decade later, the worst fears of liberals haven't materialized. States did not enter what critics feared would be a money-saving "race to the bottom." Thousands of poor children did not wind up "sleeping on grates," as Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted.

Major employers hired thousands of welfare recipients. UPS hired 52,000; CVS/pharmacy hired 45,000, 60% of whom remain. Welfare offices have shed the look and language of their first 60 years for the aura of job-services agencies.

Nearly 70% of all single women are working, compared with 66% of married women, a reversal of the past. Single women's incomes have risen, thanks in part to the expansion of the earned income tax credit, a tax break of up to $4,400 for low-income workers. Child poverty rates have dropped, particularly among blacks and Hispanics. Teen pregnancies are down. Child support collections are up.

"Everything has worked," says conservative Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute. "Every critique one might have is about what could have gone better, not something that has gone poorly."

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 18, 2006 8:14 AM

Coming off his 1960s critiques of the developing welfare state under LBJ, his Ted Kennedy-like hyperbole against the welfare reform plan was one of the low points in Moynihan's career (allowing Hillary to start her 2000 senatorial campaign at his upstate farm was the other nadir).

Posted by: John at July 18, 2006 11:01 AM

Thanks, Newt.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 18, 2006 11:09 AM

The real question is those 60% at CVS, are they still poor or lower middle-class or higher????

Did anyone go to school to improve herself?

How are their kids doing?

Posted by: Sandy P at July 18, 2006 11:23 AM


The former welfare recipients are the principal reason why 58% of today's college students are women, and why non-traditional students outnumber traditional college students. Not to mention, the removal of permanent welfare is a principal reason why black female college graduates have a LOWER unemployment rate than white female college graduates.

Posted by: Brad S at July 18, 2006 1:04 PM

Brad S - I hadn't heard the statistics you cite before: "The former welfare recipients are the principal reason why 58% of today's college students are women..." Where did you get that info?

Posted by: ALice C at July 20, 2006 10:07 PM