February 29, 2012


Welfare reform worked: The success story among poor mothers shows how public policy can reduce poverty by encouraging individuals to work. (Peter H. Schuck and Ron Haskins, February 28, 2012, LA Times)

The data refute these dire predictions. In fact, according to Census Bureau data, between 1996 and 2000, the percentage of never-married mothers in jobs increased by about a third (to 66%), while the poverty rate for these mothers and their children declined by about a third (to 40%). For the poorest of the poor, this large an improvement based on their own efforts was unprecedented. Since then, two recessions have reduced these gains somewhat; their employment rate is down to 58.7% (still better than for women generally) and their poverty rate is up to 49.3%.

Yet even in the worst recession since the Depression, more are employed and they are less poor than they were before the 1996 law. In fact, researchers Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and James Sullivan of Notre Dame have found that if all the work-based benefits given to low-income workers were included -- such benefits are mostly ignored by the official poverty measure -- the incomes of these mothers and children would be even higher and their poverty rate even lower.

The reasons for this policy success are clear, suggesting some lessons for the future. The 1996 law created strong incentives, both positive and negative, for the most uneducated, untrained and unpromising welfare recipients to join the workforce. As shown by their high employment rates, poor mothers responded to these incentives even more resourcefully than most policymakers had expected despite their often chaotic domestic circumstances. The federal law meshed well with many experimental state and local welfare-to-work programs, helping states pay for job search and readiness, health insurance, child care and other vital work support services.

Bill Clinton won two elections on reforming Welfare.  W won two on reforming SS.  Mitt Romney just needs the courage of their convictions.

Posted by at February 29, 2012 8:28 PM

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