Welfare Reform Kills the Poor

Bill ClintonYou should know by now that the welfare reform was a crock. Clinton was right that we were ending welfare as we know it, although it would have been more accurate to say simply “ending welfare.” It is often claimed (especially by Clinton himself) that the 1996 welfare reform law lifted many people out of poverty. That’s just not true. The booming economy lifted many people out of poverty. The 2001 recession pushed them back down into poverty. But because of welfare “reform” there was far less help available.

Paul Rosenberg provided a great graph of what was really going on. The poverty rate in the United States had little if anything to do with the 1996 welfare reform law. As the unemployment rate fell throughout the 1990s, so did poverty. Just as one would predict. What’s more, the poverty rate went down for three full years before the law was passed, much less implemented.

US Poverty Rate 19988-2004

Rosenberg’s article is part of a series. It is well worth reading because it shows in a great detail that welfare reform did not work in absolute and relative terms in just about every way imaginable. There are some positive trends like lower teen pregnancy rates that advocates of the 1996 law use to justify it. But they all predate the law. There really is nothing good in the data. What’s more, it hasn’t even saved the government much money.

What it has done is make the social safety net far worse. As Bryce Covert in The Nation pointed out, “In fact, nearly 70 percent of poor families with children received cash assistance in 1996; in 2009, less than 30 percent did. And the families who are able to access benefits aren’t getting much. Their purchasing power is below 1996 levels, adjusting for inflation, in every state but two. They fall below 50 percent of the poverty line in every state.” It is hard to conclude anything but that conservatives got exactly what they wanted from welfare reform while liberals did not. Conservatives wanted to limit the amount of money that goes to the poor. Done! Liberals wanted to lift people out of poverty. Not even close!

But today, Dylan Matthews reported on new research that shows that welfare reform is also killing the poor. The research is not on the 1996 law. It is on an earlier Florida law where poor people were randomly placed in either traditional welfare or “welfare to work” programs. The result: people aged 30 to 70 were 16% more likely to die over a 6 year period. Like everything about our supposed efforts to reform welfare, this should not come as a surprise.

We know that the Republican Party doesn’t give a crap about the poor. And in general, they’re up front about it: they don’t often claim otherwise. But New Democrats claim to care about the poor. But their policies indicate otherwise. They brought us an end to welfare as we know it. And the welfare we now know doesn’t help the poor, it hurts them. It even kills them.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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