Adolph Reed Is Right: This Is Important

Adolph ReedI’m a great admirer of Adolph Reed. And I generally agree with him. Unlike most of the people I read on the left, I don’t read him contingently. What I mean by that is that he is roughly as “liberal” as I am. People like Paul Krugman are allies because our country is so out of whack. But if the country does take a solid turn to the left, I will be more and more at odds with Krugman in a way that I won’t be with Reed. So I was pleased to see him write, Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important. He means, of course, Hillary Clinton.

Now, I actually don’t have much bad to say about Clinton in the same way that I don’t have much bad to say about Obama. Neither people are truly in my political camp. But they are both like Krugman: in the modern American context, they are allies. Also, in Clinton’s case, I think most of this narrative about her not being honest is due to the right-wing campaign against the Clintons in the 1990s. I don’t find her any more corrupt than any other politician of her stature.

Adolph Reed on 1930s Germany

But there was one thing in Adolph Reed’s article that really struck me. He was talking about how the Communists refused to support the Social Democrats in Germany in the early 1930s. And their leader, Ernst Thällman, famously said, “After Hitler, our turn.” Reed wrote, “His point was that a Nazi victory would expose them as fraudulent with no program for the working class.” Of course, that didn’t happen. Thällman underestimated the ruthlessness of Hitler and the Nazis. Reed goes on to discuss this. You should read his whole article, it is typically brilliant.

I’d like to talk about this in the context of our political system. I am one of those people who thinks that our democracy is stronger than Donald Trump. But I hear a lot of “Bernie or Bust” types claiming that Trump would be such a horrible president that he would only serve one term — if that. And then we would have a wonderful future where everyone is fairies and elves and you can have all the cotton candy you like. This is a total misreading of how politics works in the United States.

How a Trump Presidency Will Go

I think if Trump were elected, it would be Ronald Reagan 2.0. At first, the economy would tank. People would flip out. But then, they’d notice that Trump hadn’t actually started World War III. And the economy would recover. By 2020, Trump would win re-election easily. And by the time he left office in 2024, the country would be in ruin. But by then, the laws of the country would be much worse.

The lower classes would pay a far higher percentage of the taxes than they now do. There would be virtually nothing left of the social safety net. And the federal courts — most especially the Supreme Court — would be so conservatives — that it would be almost impossible to fix the country if a liberal Democrat were elected president with a Democratic House and 70 members of the Senate.

This Is Important

People who believe this “Trump will be such a catastrophe that everyone will see it” nonsense don’t understand how things work in this country. There ain’t gonna be a revolution. The same rich people who are in charge now will be in charge then, but the rest of us will be poorer with far less power to do anything about it. And that’s the best we can hope for. With all the voter disenfranchisement that the Republicans will enact, it could be many election cycles before anyone anywhere near liberal is in the White House.

Adolph Reed is right: this is important. Super important.

Odd Words: Ablegate

Cardinal George Pell Without AblegateAfter the first page of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition, I thought these Odd Words posts would be easy! (Well, not easy; creating the definitions with all the odd characters is actually rather hard.) But then I flipped the page and there were only two words I didn’t know.

The one I didn’t go for was “abulia” which is a mental disorder characterized by a loss of willpower. But that one hits a little too close to home. Also, I don’t really see it as a disorder. Schopenhauer would doubtless have called it a rational response to the absurdity of existence. I work obsessively, and that strikes me as far more of a disorder. So let us say no more about it.

Today’s word, as you may have guessed, has something to do with the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, I could find no pictures of an actual ablegate. So we are stuck with Cardinal George Pell. What’s important about the image is what it doesn’t contain.

Ab·le·gate  noun  \ab’-lə-gət\

1. a papal envoy to newly appointed cardinals or civil dignitaries.

Date: early 19th century.

Origin: it could be from the French word ablégat or the Latin ablegāre. As far as I know, both these words mean “ablegate.”

Example: It turns out that Francis was upset not because he gets yanked on day in and day out by people looking for a quick blessing, but because this particular puller almost knocked the supreme pontiff onto a wheelchair-bound man during an open-air mass in Morella, Mexico. I guess you could call the whole thing a dis-ablegate! (Papal pun!)Lindsey Ellefson

The Skewed Sample Fallacy of Oppression

Horatio Alger - Strive and Succeed - Skewed Sample FallacyI’ve known a lot of people from a broad array of backgrounds. They range from people living on the street to people with millions of dollars. (I’ve had no experience with the super rich.) And something I hear a lot from the people who have done fairly well economically is that they succeeded, so anyone could do it. Note: I am not just talking about the millionaires. I hear this kind of comment from people just scraping by in the lower middle class. Anyone who has overcome adversity can make the same claim. But this is a demonstration of something very dangerous: the skewed sample fallacy.

Let me make it personal for a moment. Although I had the great advantage of having parents who were interested in the life of the mind, I also suffered badly from dyslexia. As a result, I had a very hard time learning to read and write. And this was at a time when people didn’t think much about dyslexia. Normally, I would have just been written off as simply stupid, if it hadn’t been for my prodigious gift for math. So it would be easy for me to dismiss the failures as others, “I could barely read into my teens yet I became a writer!” Blah, blah, blah! Shut that man up!

Sample Size: One

This is what I mean by the skewed sample fallacy. And in this case, the sample size is one: me (or you). In my case, my lack of literary skills eventually made me embarrassed. And this led to my becoming fascinated with the language. But that was just me. I think a more natural response is to avoid it. And if not that, embracing it wouldn’t assure success. (Note: I’m only a good writer relative to my environment; every day I learn something that makes me embarrassed about something I wrote yesterday.)

On a personal level, the skewed sample fallacy is fine. It’s great that people feel good about themselves. It’s on the social level that it is pernicious. This is because it is society’s winners who set the rules. And every one of them thinks that their wealth and power are due to their own wonderfulness. As the football coach Barry Switzer said, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

But even if they were born with every disadvantage and managed to make it to the top of our economic pecking order, nothing changes. In fact, I generally find such people the biggest abusers of the skewed sample fallacy. They do, at least, have strong evidence that bad circumstances can be overcome.

Social Policy Based on Skewed Sample Fallacy

Everywhere I look in society, I see evidence that our social policies are based on millions of individuals’ one little skewed sample fallacy. Look at Bill Gates. To him, all poor children need are good schools. After all, some desperately poor children have been put into special educational programs and become great successes. But is that how we are to set policy?

Certainly many conservatives think this very thing. After the 2012 election, Avik Roy made the ridiculous argument that we liberals had equality of opportunity all wrong. Basically, he claimed, equality of opportunity means not having any laws against the poor. So as long as there is no law stopping a malnourished child who misses the first five years of school is legally allowed, they still have an equal opportunity to make good as Donald Trump’s kids.

What I’d like to see is society’s “winners” understand that they don’t define the world. Policy based on their own experiences is rarely good policy. They usually have advantages that they don’t see. And so they need to see that just because they rose and others did not is not an indication that they are better and others are worse. And I make that plea first and most forcefully to myself.

Odd Words: Abiogenesis

DNA - AbiogenesisI’m starting a new series today: Odd Words. I got the idea last night because I was very tired and didn’t feel like writing. So I grabbed a book I bought ages ago but never opened, The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. The book is literally falling part. I’m using its cover as a bookmark. But it’s fascinating.

I like dictionaries. It doesn’t matter if you know the words. We know words more by how they are used than by their definitions. I constantly find myself wishing to use a slightly uncommon word. But then I wonder, “Is this what I mean?” So I look it up. And in almost all cases, I’m using the word perfectly. But it’s always a joy to see the odd words laid out so simply — so directly.

Words I Don’t Know: Abiogenesis

But I found something interesting on the first page of the Everyday Reader’s Dictionary. Of the 20 words, there were 5 that I didn’t know at all. And I learned new things about words I did know. For example, did you know that abalone is a kind of snail? Abalone is very popular here in northern California. The smell of it alone, makes me sick, so I’ve never tasted it. But I am looking forward to asking people the next time I find myself around it, “How are you enjoying your snail?”

Today’s word is “abiogenesis.”

Ab·i·o·gen·e·sis  noun  \ā-bī-ō-‘je-nə-səs\

1. generation of living organisms from inanimate matter, as the laboratory creation of a virus from a complex protein molecule.

Date: circa 1870.

Origin: not (a-) life (bio) generated (genesis).

Example: With that in mind, can scientists reproduce the conditions of earth where abiogenesis began and successfully create these self-replicating peptides?EvolutionFAQ

Back Off!

Now before anyone says it: yes, I could have pieced that word together. As a matter of fact, I’ve got to have been exposed to it, because certainly Carl Sagan must have mentioned it in The Dragons of Eden. But the truth is that I’ve never had a huge vocabulary. Nor do I want one. After you get past about 50,000 words, you’re in “types of fish” territory.

So if you already know words that come up in this category, good for you! But don’t scoff or feel too proud. You’ll just look small. And if you’re very nasty, I’ll give you a differential equation to solve!

Recessions Are Predictable If One Has Eyes Open

Dean Baker on 2016 July Jobs ReportRecessions are caused by one of two things: either the Fed brings them on as a result of raising interest rates to combat inflation or a bubble bursts throwing the economy into a recession.

Taking these in turn, if the Fed were raising interest rates in response to actual inflation (and not the creative imagination of FOMC members) then we would presumably be looking at a higher interest rate structure throughout the economy. In that case, the Fed should then have more or less as much room to maneuver as it has in prior recessions.

The bubble story could be bad news, but it is important to think a bit about what a bubble bursting recession means. There has been a serious effort in many circles to treat bubbles as really sneaky creatures. They just pop up when no one is looking and then they burst and sink the economy.

That is a convenient view for all the people who were in positions of responsibility in the housing bubble years and ignored the threat the bubble posed to the economy. But the reality is that the housing bubble was easy to see for anyone with their eyes open.

—Dean Baker
Bernstein and Krugman Worry about the Fed and the Next Recession

Jim Holt and the Nexus of Silly and Profound

Jim HoltBecause of what I think is a lot of simplistic thinking from atheists, I found myself again reading Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist? It’s almost like comfort food, because like me, Holt is an atheist who still thinks that these spiritual or religious questions are interesting and worth discussing. Reading him makes me feel less alone, even though I think there are a lot of people like us around. But then I thought something else — something very personal.

As far as I know, Jim Holt has only written two books. Why Does the World Exist? is about ontology — the most serious issue that I can imagine. And one very close to my heart. This other book is, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This — basically a history of jokes. This is about the most silly issue that I can imagine. But I see myself in Jim Holt. In particular, my plays are the combination of these two things: very serious, profound stuff combined with total silliness: Arthur Schopenhauer meets Kermit the Frog. Maybe there is something to this. Maybe it makes perfect sense that Jim Holt would write about ontology and jokes, and I would write about Thích Quảng Đức and the effects of MP3 files on dogs.

I’ve discussed before how in half of Schopenhauer’s photos, you can see that he is smirking. I feel certain that he was in on the joke of existence.

Jim Holt’s Puppets

Now I don’t mean to compare myself to Jim Holt, much less one of the greatest philosopher in all of human history. But I think we are all in the same category, just as the people who perform puppet plays at the local library are in the same category as Lope de Vega. There is something about the analytic mind that causes it to bifurcate. You think about the nature of existence until you can take it no more and out comes the silly.

In the following video, it should surprise no one that at the the 12:40 mark, Jim Holt pulls out puppets to make a point about Thomas Aquinas’ criticisms of the ontological argument:

Of course, Jim Holt doesn’t pull out puppets. But I suspect that most of you were willing to believe me. The truth is that his discussion of ontology is largely a stand-up comedy routine. Towards the end of the talk he says:

My professor at Columbia, Sidney Morgenbesser, a great philosophical wag — when I said to him, “Professor Morgenbesser, why is there something rather than nothing?” he said, “Oh, even if there was nothing, you still wouldn’t be satisfied.”

Privilege and Play

Maybe it’s also privilege. Maybe it’s only if you have a pretty good life that such issues occur to you. So we’re all happy and sometimes we get thinking about the profound stuff while eating fine dinners. The truth is, none of my closest friends of interested in this subject. It’s not that their lives are horrible. But they all suffer from depression. They have issues close to home that need thinking about.

I actually think it is just that the nature of our lives is play. We are all very lucky that through a combination of genes and luck, we see the world of ideas as our play things. And though we may sometimes think about deep and important issues, we only do it because it’s fun. For me personally, I’m only interested in ontology for so long. Then it’s back to the puppets.


I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not a total nutcase; I am. Although I do suffer from depression, it isn’t my primary dysfunction. Primarily, I’m a nervous wreck. But over the years, I’ve come to see this as something of a gift. If I suffered from depression to the extent that I suffer from anxiety, I would not be here to play with puppets and marvel at the fact that the universe exists and that against all probability, I’m part of.

Why David Brooks Is So Popular With Idiot Elitists

Sasha IssenbergBrooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism — narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity — by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations. Former Times editor Howell Raines famously defended page-one placement for a piece examining Britney Spears’s flailing career by describing it as a “sophisticated exegesis of sociological phenomenon.” The headline writer’s favorite word is “deconstructing.” (Last year, the Toronto Star deconstructed a sausage.) Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon demographer whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class earned Bobos-like mainstream cachet, nostalgizes an era when readers looked to academia for such insights:

“You had Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith. This is what we’re missing; this is a gap,” Florida says. “Now you have David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists. Where is the serious public intellectualism of a previous era? It’s the failure of social science to be relevant enough to do it.”

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter — Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? — and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk’s appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom’s compulsion for scoops.

There’s even a Brooksian explanation for why he has become so popular with the East Coast media elite. Blue Americans have heard so much about Red America, and they’ve always wanted to see it. But Blue Americans don’t take vacations to places like Galveston and Dubuque. They like to watch TV shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne, where Red America is mocked by either cartoon characters or Red Americans themselves, so Blue Americans don’t need to feel guilty of condescension. Blue Americans are above redneck jokes, but they will listen if a sociologist attests to the high density of lawnbound-appliances-per-capita in flyover country. They need someone to show them how the other half lives, because there is nothing like sympathy for backwardness to feed elitism. A wrong turn in Red America can be dangerous: They might accidentally find Jesus or be hit by an 18-wheeler. It seems reasonable to seek out a smart-looking fellow who seems to know the way and has a witty line at every point. Blue Americans always travel with a guide.

—Sasha Issenberg
David Brooks: Boo-Boos in Paradise

Donald Trump’s Curious Ideas About Racist Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump RacistYesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech tying together Donald Trump’s long history of racism, from his early days excluding African-American tenants from his family’s housing in New York to what Paul Ryan called “textbook racist” comments that a Mexican-American was unfit to judge whether Trump had committed fraud. Trump fired off a peripatetic series of replies. He oddly lambasted Clinton’s speech as “short,” raising the tantalizing question of what further evidence of his racism he believes she should have included. (His racialized hysteria against the “Central Park Five”? His assertions that black people are inherently lazy?) He lambasted Clinton’s use of the racism charge, “the last refuge of the discredited politician,” a cheap trick to which only a scoundrel would resort. Then finally, that evening, forgetting his conviction that only a discredited politician would charge his opponent with racism, Trump appeared on CNN, where he called Clinton a “bigot.”

—Jonathan Chait
Trump: Only Desperate Liars Call Their Opponent Racist. Also Hillary Is Racist.

Mocha Dick: the Real Life Basis for Moby Dick

Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the PacificAs I’ve probably mentioned, I got an unabridged book-on-CD of Moby-Dick, which I’ve been listening to on my nightly walks. Listened to, it is hard to believe that it isn’t meant as comedy. Of particular note is Chapter 32, Cetology. In it, Ishmael writes down a little book-within-a-book about whales. But what would one expect of Herman Melville? This is the kind of thing that made him so great. But in checking out some of the facts he claimed, I came upon the story of Mocha Dick. He was an actual albino sperm whale that the novel was based upon.

Apparently, Mocha Dick was a very large male. He survived many attacks through a combination of size, strength, and ferocity. According to Jeremiah Reynolds’ 1839 book Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific, he may have survived over a hundred attacks. That’s amazing! But there is something even more amazing: the whale seemed to have been extremely easy going. He was like a dolphin — very comfortable around humans. It’s just that, like the intelligent creature that he was, he didn’t take well to others trying to kill him.

A Sight to Behold

He must have been a sight to behold as well. When he was finally killed after what was apparently two decades of different attacks, he turned out to be 70 feet long. His white skin breaching the surface of the blue ocean must have been magnificent. And the human reaction was, of course: let’s kill him!

“Oh, lonely death on lonely life!” —Captain Ahab

Hearing the story of Mocha Dick made me ashamed to be a human. I understand: the chain of life. I eat meat. People in the early 19th century needed whale oil. But still, it seems so horrible. Is there no beauty that we will not destroy for a buck?

Regardless, knowing this takes some fun out of the novel. The ending of the book is unclear as to exactly what happens to Moby Dick, but it does seem that he survives. In fact, it’s nice to think of him swimming around the sea, dragging Captain Ahab until he is eventually consumed by wandering sharks. No on in the novel is terribly likable. Ishmael has to survive to tell and tale. (And even he survives only because of Queequeg’s coffin!) So it’s easy enough to think of Moby Dick as the “good guy” — even if he is not presented so in the novel. And it is nice to think of him now and forever alive.

Mocha Dick Does Not Live On

Unfortunately, we know that Mocha Dick is now and forever dead. Of course, death comes to us all. And it is doubtless truth that the whale was very old — much older than anyone reading this can reasonably expect to live. And he probably died because of a decline in his health. Of course, that may not have been natural. According to Reynolds, when Mocha Dick was killed in 1838, he had 19 harpoons stuck in him. And he was killed when trying to help out a female sperm whale that had just been killed by whalers.

Male sperm whales live alone except for breeding. And I wonder if Mocha Dick’s being albino caused him to be shunned in that regard too. We all know Ahab’s famous line, “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” But right before that, he says something more thoughtful and true, of himself and of Mocha Dick, “Oh, lonely death on lonely life!”

Obama’s Mass Lesbian Infiltration Plan

Jonathan ChaitBarack Obama is nearing the finish line of a presidency filled with accomplishments ranging from death panels to FEMA camps to the importation of Sharia law. Year eight is a natural time for Obama to unveil the most deviously brilliant plot of them all: mass lesbian infiltration of the agriculture sector. The Department of Agriculture has cleverly designed this scheme as an innocuous outreach summit to LGBT Americans living in rural areas. But Rush Limbaugh has exposed the administration’s true intentions, which are nothing less than a full-scale assault on the last bastion of red-state America.

Here’s how it works. “Rural America happens to be largely conservative. Rural America is made up of self-reliant, rugged individualist types,” explains Limbaugh. (Farmers are “self-reliant” because, even though their sector is technically the recipient of heavy federal subsidies, they are overwhelmingly white.) …

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that once Obama locks up the farmers in FEMA camps, he’s going to need to repopulate the farms with political loyalists, or else the cities will have food shortages. That’s where the lesbians come in. By the time Hillary Clinton is running for her fourth term, red America will have been completely liquidated, and she won’t even need Acorn to steal the election for her.

—Jonathan Chait
Mass Lesbian Farm Infiltration Is Obama’s Best Scheme Yet

Fun With Voter Math and Southern White Females

Brad DeLong - Southern White FemalesBrad DeLong wrote an interesting article a few weeks ago, Josh Barro Makes Me Aware of Niall Ferguson. But as an aside, he noted, “[Hillary Clinton] is behind by roughly 22 percentage points among southern whites — who are, increasingly, acting like a very separate ethnicity (and 40 percentage points behind, perhaps, among southern white males — suggesting white females are close).” I immediately thought, “Ah, a chance to do some math and nail down those southern white females!”

It should surprise no one that DeLong’s offhand guess turns out to be roughly right. But I still think it is interesting to go through it. Why? Because math is fun. And yes, this is not pure math; it is applied math. And it is only pure math that gets me really excited. But nonetheless, I’m pretty excited. Just how likely are southern white females to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Let’s Get Mathematical

Now, I don’t know where he gets the statistics — maybe from this CNN/ORC poll (PDF). And I’m not terribly happy with him throwing in “perhaps” when discussing Trump being ahead by 40 percentage points among southern white males. But it all sounds about right. And I’m more interested in the math anyway.

Math nerds will immediately notice that we can exactly calculate the percentage of southern white females who will vote for Hillary Clinton. In order to do this, we need to define a few variables:

  • F: percentage of southern white females who will vote for Clinton
  • M: percentage of southern white males who will vote for Clinton
  • T: percentage of all southern whites who will vote for Clinton
  • P: percentage of all southern white voters who are southern white females.

The Equation Enters

Thus we can set up the following equation:

P×F + (1-P)×M = T

If Hillary Clinton is down by 22 percentage points among all southern whites, that means she is getting 39% of the vote. This is the value of T. Similarly, if she is down by 40 percentage points among southern white males, she is getting 30% of the vote. This is the value of M. For the moment, let’s assume that men and women vote in equal numbers. So P = 50%. Thus, the equation becomes:

F = (T – (1-P)×M)/P = (0.39 – (1-0.5)×0.30)/0.5) = 0.48 = 48%

That looks good for DeLong’s prediction. But we aren’t done.

The Plot Thickens (But Not Much)

It turns out that in presidential elections, men and women do not vote (PDF) at the same rate. In 2012, voter turnout for men was 59.8%. For women, it was 63.7%. In addition, more women are registered to vote. In 2012, only 71.4 million men were registered to vote, while 81.7 million women were. I see no reason why things should be different for southern white females.

Doing a little simple arithmetic, we see that in 2012, 43 million men and 52 million women voted. (Note: this does not add up to the 127 million who voted. I assume this is due to the sampling and that the percentages are still correct.) This means that women represent 55% of all voters. If we assume the same is true of southern white females, we get the slightly more complicated equation:

F = (T – (1-P)×M)/P = (0.39 – (1-0.55)×0.30)/0.55) = 0.46 = 46%

Clinton Doesn’t Need Southern White Females

Clearly, Hillary Clinton could stand to do a bit better with southern white females. But it was never a question but that she was going to the lose the white vote overall — much less in the south. And note that this really isn’t about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Earlier today, I saw a list of polls pairing Clinton vs Trump over the last year. The polls really haven’t changed that much. There are blips when Trump said something outrageous or when the media made a big deal out of any number of Clinton non-scandals. But it’s been pretty consistent.

In the end, Hillary Clinton will do about as well as any other Democrat would have. And as amazing as it may seem, Trump will do about as well as any other Republican. Because when Trump manages to even win southern white females, you know it isn’t about him. They’re just voting their tribe — like most people.

Still: math is fun!

After 20 Years, Welfare Reform Successful as Expected

Zaid JilaniThis week marks the 20th anniversary of “welfare reform,” the 1996 law passed by Congress and administered by President Bill Clinton that strictly limited the amount of federal cash assistance that the poorest Americans can receive — transforming the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program into the more restrictive Temporary Aid for Needy Families.

One of the main impacts of the law was to help double the number of American households living in extreme poverty in America — defined as living on less than $2 a day…

Luke Shaefer, a University of Michigan Social Work professor and one of the researchers who documented the rise in extreme poverty since the passage of welfare reform, told The Intercept that the claims of reduction in poverty and increase in employment were more true up until 2000. “Single moms did go to work, but it is unclear if welfare reform had much to do with it,” he said. The Earned Income Tax Credit “expansion is much more clearly important. And we know that the moms who left welfare were not any better off for it, and in some cases a lot worse off.”

Shaefer worked with sociologist Kathryn Edin on a book released last year that found before welfare reform, more than a million households with children were being kept out of extreme poverty thanks to federal assistance. By 2011, that had dropped to about 300,000. The researchers estimated that 1.5 million American households, including 3 million children, are today living at or below extreme poverty — double the number that it was in 1996.

The impact of welfare reform was particularly severe on women and minorities, with many female-headed families losing income and women being forced into low-wage work without benefits.

Shaefer points to research from Jim Ziliak, a prominent economist who studied the issue for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Taken together, the results from leaver studies, demonstrations, and from national samples suggest that many women were worse off financially after welfare reform,” he writes. “Especially at the bottom of the distribution.”

—Zaid Jilani
20 Years Later, Poverty Is Up, But Architects of “Welfare Reform” Have No Regrets