ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Welfare Reform After 10 Years

It was 10 years ago this coming August that President Bill Clinton signed into law Welfare Reform. From a legislative standpoint, this will be Clinton's landmark achievement - even though it required continued pressure from the GOP controlled Congress.

I'm traveling, so - of course - USAToday is going to be highlighted. (See here for background)

USA Today has this story on the anniversary of Welfare Reform, profiling three families. All in all, I would say that all of them are better off. Even the most disconcerting profile at the end shows that the welfare mom, while having difficulty making the transition to work, is having an impact on her children - demonstrating to them the importance of staying out of the system, getting an education, and waiting for children.

How welfare reform changed America
Posted 7/17/2006 11:23 PM ET
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Michelle Gordon was 30, a poor, single mother with four kids between 5 and 13, when the federal government decided in 1996 that parents on welfare should go to work.

Since then, Gordon's life has been "a little bit of a roller coaster." She has held about 10 jobs — at a call center, as a nurse's aide, as a janitorial supervisor, most recently at a grocery store. She lost that job on April 19, her 40th birthday. It took her two months to find another. For 25 hours a week, she cleans bathrooms and vacuums floors at a drug rehabilitation center.

Mary Bradford was 45 in 1996, with three children between 11 and 25, when she traded welfare for a job filling orders at Victorian Trading Co. Ten years later, her office has moved from Missouri to Kansas, and she's still with the company. She's a production supervisor, and her earnings have more than doubled from the $7 an hour she made in 1996. "Most likely, I'll retire from here," Bradford says.

"She's reliable as the sun coming up," says Randy Rolston, the company's co-founder. "I can't think of a day she's missed."

The story continues on to profile others who have left the welfare rolls and discusses the fact that the dire predictions of liberals have not come to fruition.
Worst fears didn't come true

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."

The article describes how many of those that are still on welfare are improving their skills, becoming more marketable, etc. It's also interesting to note that no one in this article is making minimum wage. (No, they're not making $15/hour, but they're not making the minimum...)
Finally, the article returns to Gordon:
For Michelle Gordon, making ends meet these days depends on two lawn mowers, two trimmers and a broom. "I'm living with my mother. I'm 40 years old," she says.

She uses her experience as a lesson to her children. Daughter Essence, 19, has a high school diploma and a job and is attending college. Son Geno, 17, also has a summer job. Daughter Zoila, 15, says she won't have kids until she's married and established in life. The family gets food stamps, and the youngest two are on Medicaid, but they no longer get cash benefits.

The roller coaster Gordon has been riding for 10 years has made her less dependent on the government and more of a role model for her kids, she says.

"I'm not making $50,000 a year," she says, "but I'm keeping my head up, and I'm surviving."

Keep in mind that the three fathers of Gordon's children do not pay any child support, so she is in a very difficult situation. However, it appears that she is a positive influence on her family. Would this have occured if she stayed in the old system?

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler