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What Happened to Welfare?

1.

When Clinton promised to end welfare, most Americans, according to many polls and surveys, saw AFDC as a Democratic program that had contributed to the spread of unwed motherhood and economic dependency. Clinton’s long-term goal was to remove welfare from national political attention so that it would no longer cost the Democrats votes. His effort succeeded. By 2000, when George W. Bush was running against Al Gore, the welfare rolls had fallen from 4.8 to 2.2 million families, and welfare was no longer an issue in electoral politics. That remains true today.

Clinton also expected that it would be much easier to win political support for helping poor single mothers if they were working, and the abolition of AFDC was, in fact, accompanied by a big increase in assistance to the working poor. In 1993 Clinton persuaded Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can now raise the annual income of a low-wage worker with children by as much as 40 percent. TANF also gave states money that they could use to support child care for low-wage workers, and many states did so. A few days after passing welfare reform in 1996, the Republican Congress also approved an increase in the minimum wage.

Many liberals felt betrayed by Clinton’s decision to sign the welfare reform bill and blamed public hostility to AFDC on racism, which was certainly a factor. About two fifths of AFDC recipients were black, and the proportion was much higher in the large metropolitan areas, where the most influential newspapers and TV networks are located. Nonetheless, racism was not the only reason for the program’s unpopularity.

AFDC was at odds with three widely shared American views. First, instead of encouraging unmarried couples to marry if they conceived a child, it seemed to be rewarding them for not marrying, because marriage usually made couples ineligible for AFDC payments. Second, instead of encouraging recipients to work, AFDC reduced their benefits by about seventy cents for every dollar they earned. As a result, an unskilled mother who had to pay for child care if she worked was usually better off staying home. Third, AFDC seldom paid recipients enough to cover even the most basic expenses. As a result, most mothers supplemented their benefits by working “off the books” and getting money under the table from boyfriends or relatives.1 A program that encouraged unwed motherhood, idleness, and dishonesty was bound to be unpopular, even in places where all the recipients were white.

AFDC had not always been unpopular. When the program was created in 1935, most single mothers were widows, so supporting them was not seen as subsidizing sin. Most Americans also thought that a home needed a full-time homemaker, so few wanted single mothers to work. AFDC’s goal was to help widows retain custody of their children instead of having to break up their family when their husbands died.

But by 1996 less than 2 percent of AFDC recipients were widows and 60 percent had never been married to their child’s other parent.2 In addition, birth control and abortion were widely available, making it hard to argue that having a child out of wedlock was an accident that an unmarried woman could not avoid. Moreover, two thirds of all mothers were working, making it dangerous for any politician to argue that asking mothers to work would do their children irreparable harm.3

After Clinton was elected, he concentrated on health care reform before turning to welfare. That gave the administration a year to prepare a politically acceptable welfare reform proposal. Nonetheless, the task proved impossible, particularly after the failure of Clinton’s proposals for health care reform. Many liberal Democrats still opposed enforceable work requirements, and few Republicans saw any reason to help a Democratic president get credit for solving the welfare problem. With no consensus among Democratic legislators, action was postponed until after the 1994 elections, which gave the Republicans control of Congress.

After the elections the Republicans drafted a new welfare reform bill. Clinton’s welfare reform team had hoped to guarantee jobs for able-bodied welfare recipients who could not find work and child care for those who could. The Republicans wanted to save money, so they rejected these guarantees. Clinton vetoed several Republican bills as too harsh, but as the 1996 election approached he decided that the third Republican bill was better than no bill at all. At the time, I thought he should have vetoed it. For reasons I mention below, I now think he made the right decision.

2.

American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare, is by far the best book about welfare reform that I have read. It has won a number of prizes, and it deserves them. Its author, Jason DeParle, covered Clinton’s welfare proposals for The New York Times during the 1992 campaign and then during Clinton’s first two years in office. Later, he reported for the Times on welfare reform in Wisconsin, where the governor, Tommy Thompson, was trying to put all welfare recipients to work.

American Dream brings together three related stories: the political struggle over welfare reform in Washington, Wisconsin’s efforts to move Milwaukee welfare recipients off the rolls, and the way these changes affected three black families in Milwaukee. The three families are at the heart of DeParle’s book. Their lives show both how much some things changed after welfare reform and how little difference these changes ultimately made to the three families.

The mother with whom DeParle spent the most time is Angela Jobe. Her mother, Charity, had grown up in Mississippi, finished high school in 1961, moved to Chicago, and found an office job at a commercial laundry. After Charity learned she was pregnant, she married Angie’s father, Roosevelt Jobe. When Angie was about to enter school, her parents bought a house in a relatively prosperous black neighborhood. A year later Charity transferred Angie to a Catholic school because she thought the public school’s teachers took no interest in their pupils.

Angie’s parents both worked steadily, but her life at home was difficult. Her father was alcoholic, violent, and promiscuous. Her mother was devout and wanted the children to succeed in school, but she tried to keep them in line by punishing them physically. When Angie was twelve, her parents divorced. After her mother remarried, Angie resented her new stepfather, moved to her father’s house, and started smoking marijuana. She also met Greg, who became the love of her life. In eleventh grade she became pregnant, dropped out of school, went on welfare, and moved in with Greg. She and Greg had two more children but never married.

When crack cocaine hit Chicago, Greg became a dealer. Then one of his friends asked him for help getting even with some men who had beaten him up. Another friend found some guns, and despite Angie’s objections Greg joined the posse. When his friends started shooting, they accidentally killed a fourteen-year-old bystander, Kathryn Miles. The prosecutor offered Greg a light sentence if he would testify against his friends, but despite Angie’s pleas Greg refused to do so. He was sentenced to sixty-five years. Without Greg’s earnings, Angie was in serious financial trouble, and a few months later, in September 1991, she moved to Milwaukee, where rents were lower and welfare benefits higher.4 Despite using birth control, she had a fourth child two years later, with a man whom she had already stopped seeing by the time she learned she was pregnant.

Angie was not a woman who “never had a chance.” Her mother was able to support her and encouraged her to continue at school. Like millions of other adolescents, she felt that her mother was too devout and moralistic, and, as she told DeParle, she found street life more exciting than home or school. After she moved in with Greg, she was unusually generous to her relatives and friends. In Chicago, when Greg’s pregnant sister Jewell needed a place to live, Angie took her in and became her closest friend. Jewell moved to Milwaukee with Angie in 1991.

In Milwaukee, when Jewell’s cousin Opal was living in a crack house and eight months pregnant, Angie also took Opal, her drug-dealing boyfriend, and their small daughter into her home. To fit everyone in, Angie asked her oldest daughter to share a bed with Opal. Even after Opal stole things from Angie’s children to get money for drugs, Angie let her stay, demanding only that Opal apologize to each of the children. Later, when the state took custody of Opal’s children, Angie adopted one of them, making herself responsible for a fifth child. Helping Opal left Angie with less time, less space, and less money for her own children.

Angie was also strongly committed to work. She had worked before welfare reform, because she needed more money than welfare provided. After Wisconsin officials told her she would have to work, she left the welfare rolls and worked full-time as an aide in a nursing home, a particularly tough job. DeParle reports that one nursing aide in six is injured every year, usually because lifting patients causes a back injury. But Angie got a lot of satisfaction from the job, and her supervisor told DeParle that she was unusually good at it. Even when she was depressed or hung over from drinking the night before, she went to work. Often she was gone before her children got up for school, which was probably one reason they missed more than one day of school out of every five. Nonetheless, after seven years at the nursing home she was making only $9 an hour. That was more than most former welfare recipients earned, but it was not enough to support the four (or later five) children for whom Angie was responsible.

Angie’s friends Jewell Reed and Opal Caples were the other two mothers DeParle came to know. Like Angie, they had grown up in Chicago and moved to Milwaukee for economic reasons. Like Angie, Jewell had never been married. Her first child was fathered by a man who later drifted away. The father of her second child was Greg’s friend Tony, who had fired the shots that killed Kathryn Miles and was serving an even longer sentence than Greg. Unlike Angie, Jewell dressed well, kept an orderly house, and disciplined her children. Although she went to work after Wisconsin officials told her she would have to do so, she got little satisfaction from her jobs. According to DeParle, she was a mother first, a husband-hunter second, and a worker only when she had no other choice.

Unlike either Angie or Jewell, Opal finished high school, briefly attended community college, and got married before having her first three children. She told DeParle that when she learned her husband had become a cocaine dealer she could not understand why people would destroy their lives by using drugs. Nonetheless, she herself became addicted to cocaine and was never able to break the habit for more than a few weeks. Opal was well-spoken and likable. She also seems to have been a convincing liar. When DeParle interviewed the case workers who were supposed to help her find work, only one of them realized that she was a cocaine addict, even though that fact was recorded in her file by one of the first social workers who dealt with her case. Nor did they figure out that her first three children were living in Chicago with their grandmother, or that she was living in a crack house with another child, giving birth soon after to two more. Eventually she had to give up custody of all her children, and Angie and Jewell lost track of her.

Three families are clearly inadequate to assess the impact of welfare reform, and DeParle also reviews more systematic evidence from other sources, including surveys and various experiments that treated groups of families differently. Three questions seem particularly important in assessing the legislation’s impact: whether single mothers’ material standard of living rose or fell, how pushing mothers into the labor force affected their children, and how the new system affected the number of women raising children on their own.

3.

DeParle stopped by one evening in 1999 to visit Angie, who was propped up in bed beside her on-and-off boyfriend, Marcus:

Great heaps of stuff spilled everywhere: report cards, pay stubs, unopened bills, CDs, an iron, mounds of dirty clothes. A milk crate held a battered TV, and Marcus sprawled on the bedcovers…. Angie was in an expansive mood. All in all, she figured, it hadn’t been a bad year. She had worked three jobs and bought a car. She had earned $18,500, a personal record. She had started a retirement plan. She had been shot at by Marcus and ripped off by Opal. She had lost her lights twice and run low on food more times than she could count. Someone had just egged her car….

So how had the new law changed her life? Had ending welfare worked? While I had posed versions of the question before, they never seemed to grab her, and I was starting to understand why. On welfare, Angie was a low-income single mother, raising her children in a dangerous neighborhood in a household roiled by chaos. She couldn’t pay the bills. She drank lots of beer. And her kids needed a father. Off welfare, she was a low-income single mother, raising her children in a dangerous neighborhood in a household roiled by chaos. She couldn’t pay the bills. She drank lots of beer. And her kids needed a father. “We’re surviving!” is all Angie said. “‘Cause that’s what we have to do.”

Were her kids proud that she works? It was a question that often arose when I talked about Angie with middle-class friends, most of whom took it as an article of faith that the answer was yes. Angie paused. “I don’t think the kids think about that,” she said. “They’d like it if I’d just sit around with them all day.” She raised her voice to mimic a squeal: “‘Why you always at work?’ Shoot! Why you think I gotta work? Ain’t none a you got a job!” It was possible, of course, that the kids felt prouder of her than she knew and that the power of the example she set would become clearer with time. I asked her if she thought her struggles to grind out a low-wage living would encourage the kids to stay in school. “Do I think they’re going to finish high school? Hell, no!” Angie said.

DeParle’s calculations suggest that Angie was a little better off economically after leaving welfare. Her after-tax income during her last three years on AFDC had averaged $21,500 a year ($8,400 from AFDC, $4,800 from food stamps, and $8,300 from wages and tax credits). When she left welfare, she lost her AFDC benefits but kept most of her food stamps, earned more, and got a bigger tax credit for working. Her average annual income after taxes rose $3,400, but she also had more expenses. Her children continued to get Medicaid, but she became ineligible. Anything she spent on medical care had to come out of her extra $3,400. Because she had to work more, she also had to pay more for transportation.

Angie earned significantly more than most mothers who left welfare. But because she had four children and Wisconsin’s AFDC benefits were unusually high, the check she lost when she left the rolls was far more than most AFDC mothers had been getting. What she ended up with—a small cash gain but some additional expenses—seems to have been typical of others who went off welfare across the country.

The mothers who left the welfare rolls are only half the story, however. States also reduced the rolls by “diverting” would-be applicants into job searches and employment programs, and these tactics discouraged others from applying for welfare. We cannot identify these families, so there is no way to determine whether they are now better or worse off than they would have been under AFDC. But we can make inferences by examining trends in poverty and material hardship for all unmarried mothers.

Figure 1 shows changes in the overall unemployment rate and the official poverty rate for unmarried women who headed their own households and had children under eighteen. (For a family of three in 2004, the poverty line was just over $15,000. It is adjusted every year for inflation.) In 1989, when the Reagan-era boom petered out, 43 percent of these families were officially “poor.” In 2000, when the Clinton boom came to an end, only 33 percent were officially poor. At that time skeptics often attributed declining poverty among unmarried mothers to the unusually tight labor market and argued that we would not be able to assess the true cost of welfare reform until the next recession. That recession began in 2001. Unemployment peaked at 6 percent in 2003, which was about the same as the rate in 1994. The poverty rate for single mothers was only 36 percent in 2003, compared to 44 percent in 1994. It was still 36 percent in 2004, when unemployment was about what it had been in 1996.

The official poverty rate has serious flaws. It omits food stamps, free medical care, housing subsidies, and taxes. So it is important to see whether direct measures of material hardship tell the same story. The Agriculture Department’s Food Security Survey (FSS) is a good place to begin. It asks mothers whether money problems forced them to skip meals or cut the size of their meals at any point during the previous twelve months. Between April 1995 and April 2001, as the welfare rolls were being cut in half, the fraction of single mothers who said they had to limit what they ate fell from 17.7 to 12.5 percent.5 By 2003, with unemployment slightly above its 1995 level, the percentage of mothers who reported cutting back what they ate had risen, but only to 13.8 percent.

The FSS also asked mothers whether there was a time when their children were not getting enough to eat. The proportion who said this was the case fell from 10.6 percent in 1995 to 7.8 percent in 2001 and had only risen to 8.0 percent in 2003.6 Both of these measures are consistent with the official poverty rate in suggesting that even when unemployment was 6 percent, single mothers did better after welfare reform than before.

The proportion of unmarried mothers living in someone else’s home is another indicator of financial stress. Some mothers live in someone else’s home by choice, but most get their own place when their income rises. Twenty-two percent of unmarried mothers lived in someone else’s home in both 1989 and 2000.7 When welfare reform passed, its critics also predicted a surge in the number of families living in public shelters. The United States does not collect national data on trends in homelessness, but in Milwaukee, which cut about ten thousand families from its welfare rolls, DeParle reports that the number of families in shelters on an average night rose by only forty-one. On December 12, 2004, Boston counted 1,157 homeless children in the city, down from 1,274 a decade earlier.8 Nationally, the proportion of children not living with either their mother or their father was the same in 2004 as in 1994.

These measures of material well-being can be summarized in two ways. Defenders of welfare reform stress the fact that the proportion of single mothers who cannot afford to rent their own housing is no higher today than in 1996, and that the proportion who report not having enough to eat has fallen significantly. Critics of welfare reform stress the fact that at least a million single-parent families still have trouble putting food on the table and that even larger numbers cannot afford an apartment of their own. Welfare reform is clearly a success relative to the dismal situation that prevailed in the United States before 1996. But the country is still a long way from achieving the goals that more compassionate societies set for themselves.

Welfare reform has been particularly tough on single mothers who can neither work regularly nor qualify for public assistance. Some of these mothers have sick children or elderly parents who require constant attention. Some are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are mentally ill, physically disabled, chronically sick, or retarded. Most states allow some of these mothers to stay on public assistance, but no state seems to cover all of them. For mothers who are unable to work regularly, welfare reform has often been a terrible experience.

4.

Until 1996 opponents of work requirements had argued that most single mothers wanted to work but were either unable to find jobs or unable to afford child care. These arguments were sometimes correct, but many welfare mothers were in fact working “off the books” without informing the welfare department. Once states began requiring welfare recipients to work, the number of people on welfare fell and “official” employment rose.

Although the overall unemployment rate was about the same in 2004 as in 1995, the fraction of single mothers with paid jobs rose from 62 to 70 percent.9 The reasons for this increase are obvious: welfare was much harder to obtain, and the economic benefits of work had risen. We do not yet have hourly wage data for 2004, but for women near the bottom of the economic hierarchy inflation-adjusted hourly wages rose 14 percent between 1994 and 2003.10 Increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit made the gains for single mothers even larger. In addition, more generous child care subsidies lowered working mothers’ expenses.

Still, not everyone who left the welfare rolls went to work. Last March, 8 percent of single mothers told the Census Bureau that they had neither received welfare nor worked during 2004, and that no one else in their household had worked either. In March 1995 this figure was less than 5 percent.

Most of these mothers were poor, but it is hard to know exactly how poor. Taken at face value, the incomes they reported were often so low that they should have been living in the streets during 2004. Perhaps some were. But some of them had income that they chose not to report, and others lived with boyfriends whose presence they did not mention. Some got by without any income during the previous year because they had been living with their parents. Because of such possibilities, Census Bureau estimates of extreme poverty must be treated cautiously. As I have already indicated, more direct measures of material hardship suggest that single mothers are a little better off today than they were before welfare reform.

Although welfare reform pushed more single mothers into the labor force, there is no consensus about how this change affected their children. Both President Clinton and Governor Thompson claimed that children were better off when their mothers went to work, but as DeParle shows, these claims were often based on anecdotes that did not withstand close scrutiny. DeParle also observes that Angie, Jewell, and Opal all had working mothers, and that the same was true for most of their boyfriends. Yet Angie was the only one who worked steadily.

Recent experimental studies support DeParle’s skepticism about the claim that putting single mothers to work will be good for their children. In these experiments families headed by poor single mothers were randomly allocated to either a “treatment” or a “control” group. Mothers in the treatment group were helped to find a job and also given various combinations of wage supplements, child care, and health benefits if they continued to work. Such benefits were not offered to the control group, but some members of the control group managed to get similar benefits from other government programs. Nonetheless, mothers in the “treatment” group worked more often than those in the “control” group.

After reviewing the results of these experiments, however, DeParle, along with other analysts, concludes that there were few differences between the children in the two groups. DeParle cites evidence from several work programs that young children of poor unmarried mothers do better in formal day care than when they stay at home. There is also some evidence that when such children reach adolescence they get into more trouble if their mothers work, and are better off when their mothers stay home. In most cases, however, there is little evidence that maternal employment has any effect, either positive or negative. As DeParle says, what is most striking is “the long list of things that don’t seem to change when mothers leave welfare for work.” This list “includes parental control, cognitive stimulation in the home, family routines, and harsh parenting.”11

5.

DeParle argues that the problems of the men, women, and children in the three households he observed were partly attributable to the fact that none of them had “a functioning dad and the emotional and financial support that a second parent can bring.” To support this argument he cites the work of two sociologists, Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, whose analysis of five different surveys showed that

children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background, regardless of whether the parents are married when the child is born, and regardless of whether the resident parent remarries…. [They] are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age twenty, and one and a half times as likely to be “idle”—out of school and out of work—in their late teens and early twenties.12

Although the existence of such differences is undeniable, there is no consensus about what causes them. The advantages enjoyed by children who live with both biological parents appear to be partly economic. When McLanahan and Sandefur compared children raised by both biological parents to children raised by a lone mother, the difference in their chances of finishing high school, attending college, or having a child while still a teenager was cut in half if the lone mother had the same income as the couple when their children were sixteen years old.

But money is not the entire story. If a divorced mother remarries, her family’s income usually rises to about the same level as that of other married couples. Nonetheless, her children’s prospects do not seem to improve. Indeed, her children may actually fare worse than the children of mothers who remain unmarried. One reason seems to be that the benefits of the stepfather’s income are offset by the psychological costs of having him in the house. Few children regard a stepfather enthusiastically. Most are reluctant to accept his authority, and many are jealous of his relationship with their mother. Stepfathers often reciprocate in kind, creating a vicious circle of resentment and recrimination. When Angie was doing badly in school and her mother hired a tutor, Angie liked him. When her mother married the tutor, however, Angie resented his presence and moved back to her father’s house, where she got far less parental attention. Jewell and her siblings got on so badly with their stepfather that they tried to poison him. Because unmarried mothers select stepfathers more carefully than live-in boyfriends, boyfriends can be even more of a problem.

DeParle makes a carefully hedged case for the benefits of marriage:

McLanahan didn’t argue that all fatherless families would be better off with their particular father in the home; were he, say, violent or drunk, things could be worse with him nearby than gone. But on average at all tiers of society, having a father helps.

Unfortunately, conclusions about the average effect of having a father do not tell us much about whether any of Angie or Jewell’s children would have been better off if their mothers had married their fathers. Angie and Jewell lived on the lowest tier of society, and they had little chance of meeting, much less marrying, someone likely to become an “average” father. When DeParle’s story ends, Angie, Jewell, and Opal had produced thirteen children with seven fathers, only one of whom was still living with his child. None of the others was paying child support, and two were serving long prison sentences. Judging from what DeParle tells us, the odds that marriage would have made any of the six “missing” men into a responsible, loving father seem low, although Angie might disagree about Greg.

Nonetheless, most Americans believe that children are better off if their parents are married. Many also believe that welfare discourages marriage, although past studies of AFDC suggest that its effect on marriage rates was surprisingly small.13 Most people familiar with this research doubted that replacing AFDC with TANF would have much impact on the proportion of children growing up with an unmarried mother. At the time I shared their skepticism, but now I am not so sure.

Figure 2 shows trends in the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers. After having risen rapidly between 1960 and 1994, the rate was almost flat between 1994 and 2001. Some have attributed the change between 1994 and 2001 to the fact that unskilled men were earning more, making them more likely to marry.14 The fact that out-of-wedlock births rose somewhat faster after 2000, when unemployment among unskilled men rose, is consistent with this view.

Conservatives often argue that welfare reform also sent a “signal” to young people that American society no longer saw having babies out of wedlock as acceptable, and that young people who had babies without marrying should not expect much help from the government. As far as economic assistance is concerned, that argument seems questionable. Single mothers are still more likely than married mothers to qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. It became harder for single mothers to get welfare, but the Earned Income Tax Credit now gives many unmarried mothers who work as much as AFDC would have given them to stay home. Welfare reform did, however, send a “signal” that unmarried mothers would have to work more or less full-time to have enough money to live on. That message may have persuaded some unmarried women to use contraception more effectively or to seek abortions when contraception failed.

6.

After spending eight years observing the effects of welfare reform, DeParle concludes that it moved a good many single mothers off the welfare rolls but that nearly all are still struggling to live on meager incomes. Every study I have seen supports that view.

In retrospect, it looks as if both the proponents and opponents of welfare reform overestimated its likely impact. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that abolishing AFDC would lead to large numbers of children “sleeping on grates,” and many other liberals made similar prophecies. Nothing like that has happened. If anything, material hardship among single mothers and their children has fallen slightly. Those who supported welfare reform also seem to have overestimated its benefits. More single mothers have entered the labor force, but because most mothers were already working the increase was hardly a social revolution. Thus far there is little evidence that making more mothers work has had much effect either way on children. Nor has it saved money, at least so far.

DeParle proposes several reforms to improve single mothers’ lives. He would expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, use housing subsidies to move poor families to better neighborhoods, offer better job training, and make sure that every school has an after-school program for children of working mothers. These proposals are familiar and, except for better job training, most states know how to carry them out. The obstacles are political, not technical. As DeParle says, “It’s hard to picture a radically new politics of poverty when politics remains so dominated by money and the poor so lacking in power.” But welfare reform has at least reduced popular opposition to such changes. Most Americans seem to share Clinton’s view that “those who work shouldn’t be poor,” and they are now more likely to see single mothers as working mothers.

Nonetheless, demands that all able-bodied poor women should work full-time are often unrealistic, as well as punitive in their effects. With four children to support, Angie had to work more than forty hours a week to keep her family going.15 Forcing unmarried mothers with four children to spend that much time at work can only lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, child neglect, and greater numbers of adolescents in trouble.

Reconciling the demands of work and parenthood requires a different system of child care. If all school districts offered year-round half-day pre-kindergarten programs, it would be relatively easy for mothers of young children to work half-time when jobs were available. This seems to me a far more reasonable goal than full-time work. If all schools also had after-school programs, mothers of school-age children could work full-time without worrying about their children neglecting their homework or getting in trouble. Work requirements that encourage parents like Angie to leave their children unsupervised cannot be a good idea. Most American politicians have been unwilling to acknowledge this risk. They and their constituents should think more seriously about what they can do for such mothers and children.

Those who still feel that welfare reform was a bad idea should also recognize that there is no going back. America will not revive welfare “as we knew it” in the lifetime of anyone reading this article. For that we can thank Bill Clinton.

Letters

What Happened to Welfare?’ April 6, 2006

Mothers of Ill Children April 6, 2006

  1. 1

    See Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet (Russell Sage, 1997).

  2. 2

    US House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2004 Green Book (Government Printing Office, 2004), Chapter 7, p. 87.

  3. 3

    Employment rates are from US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families: 1996,” Table 5, available at bls.gov/schedule/ archives/all_nr.htm#FAMEE.

  4. 4

    There has been intense controversy about how many welfare mothers move to states with higher welfare benefits. DeParle reports that in 1991 almost a quarter of Milwaukee’s new AFDC cases involved families that had moved to Wisconsin within the past three months.

  5. 5

    Scott Winship and Christopher Jencks, “How Did the Social Policy Changes of the 1990s Affect Material Hardship Among Single Mothers? Evidence from the CPS Food Security Supplement,” Kennedy School of Government, Working Paper RWP04-027, June 2004 (ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP04027/$File/rwp04_027_Winship_Jencks.pdf). The comparisons between 1995 and 2001 use the common screen.

  6. 6

    Tabulations by Scott Winship.

  7. 7

    I am indebted to Joseph Swingle of Wellesley College for all the estimates derived from the Census Bureau’s Annual Demographic Survey.

  8. 8

    Friends of Boston’s Homeless, “2004 City of Boston Homeless Census: Homeless Families Increase Dramatically,” available at www.fobh.org/census.htm, accessed August 26, 2004. The title of this report refers to an increase between 2003 and 2004.

  9. 9

    Employment rates are monthly averages taken from US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families,” 1996 and 2004, available at bls.gov/schedule/archives/all_ nr.htm#FAMEE.

  10. 10

    Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America, 2004/2005, Washington, D.C., 2005, Table 2.8. The estimated gain is for the 10th percentile of the female distribution.

  11. 11

    DeParle’s assessment is based mainly on an excellent review by Greg Duncan and Lindsay Chase Lansdale published in The New World of Welfare, edited by Rebecca M. Blank and Ron Haskins (Brookings Institution, 2001).

  12. 12

    Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent (Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 1–2.

  13. 13

    For a good review see Robert A. Moffitt, “The Effect of Welfare on Marriage and Fertility” in Welfare, the Family, and Reproductive Behavior, edited by Moffitt (National Academy Press, 1998).

  14. 14

    Between 1994 and 2003 the mean increase in hourly wages at the 10th and 20th percentiles of the male distribution was 14 percent (Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America, 2004–05, Table 2.7).

  15. 15

    DeParle does not report Angie’s annual hours, but he does report that she earned $18,500 in 1999 when she was making less than $9 an hour, suggesting that she worked more than two thousand hours that year.

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