Introductory Historical Context 2015: The twentieth anniversary of Welfare Reform is rapidly approaching. Amidst much cntraversary at the time, The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act was signed into law on August 22, 1996. Today, it is lauded, applauded and praised. Still questions remain.
Ten years after the signing, in 2006, former President Clinton claimed, indeed, he had fulfilled his promise to change welfare, as we knew it. And he did. “Welfare reform,” explains Mister Clinton, created “a new beginning for millions of Americans.” What sort of new beginning? Well, that depends, perhaps on who you ask and when you ask them. In the same year that former President Clinton penned his editorial, Robert Reich argued that Welfare Reform is Welfare Deform –
Today, having had a score to assess the “facts” we can see that everywhere we turn in this nation we see devastation. Poverty and a lack of education. What is inescapable is that welfare and education are inextricably linked. From family incomes to parental stress, welfare reform has an effect on our children. Low Income Students are now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools. One in five children receives food stamps.
Parents wrestle. Not only has the economy changed, but instability within job market remains . If people are fortunate enough to have work, there are conflicts. “Work schedules can often be irregular or unpredictable.” Then there is the issue of unemployment. Moms and Dads once trusted that if something unexpected should happen unemployment benefits could help them get back on their feet. Once these were a lifeline for long-term unemployed families: But now, the question persists, How Low Can We Go?
State Unemployment Insurance Programs Exclude Record Numbers of Jobless Workers.
Yes, at present opportunity surrounds us. But it comes at a cost. In February 2015, Michelle Chen wrote, in The Nation “We’ve reformed the social safety net at the cost of human lives. This was not unforeseen. Only eight months after the Bill was signed, “A Clinton appointee who resigned in protest over the new welfare law explain[ed] why it is so bad and suggest[ed] how its worst effects could be mitigated.” He referred to the Act as “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done .” And that was in 1997.
Then and now, what passes for progressive reformations are often deformations — indeed, it is questioned. Is there an authentic “progressive movement or just a shift? Bill Clinton promised a “new Democrat Party” and others followed this path since.
You might remember that then First Lady Hillary Clinton enthusiastically supported the legislation. “Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.” And now…Hillary Clinton Wants to Help Families at the Bottom. Economic Policy Editor Bryce Covert asks, “So Will She Change Her Mind About Welfare Reform?”
We increased income inequality! We built a system rife with racial biases. We ended federal entitlements, which never were much of a privilege. Those who received the meager funds were families, with children. Mothers, fathers, and babies struggled, more so once we as a country initiated deformations. People were not trained. A large portion of the population was punished. The worse-off you were the more you were castigated. If you are tired and hungry, in America you will face further recrimination. The safety net was torn into tatters. And yet, what did we say? “Welfare Reform was a success?” Each and everyday we are reminded…Robert Reich Blog. August 23, 2006 I’m baffled by the way the press has covered the tenth anniversary (this week) of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform – full of praise for a policy that has led to more poverty in America among single mothers and their children than before. I keep reading that welfare reform succeeded because welfare rolls were reduced. Of course they were reduced. People were kicked off welfare. How could they not be reduced?
TO be sure, the economy of the late 90s was so strong that many who were kicked off found jobs. Remember, between 1995 and 2000, some 14 million new jobs were added to the U.S. economy. That was because Alan Greenspan allowed the economy to grow fast, thereby pushing the official rate of unemployment down below 4 percent. In many cities, employers had to troll for workers – which meant a lot of people who otherwise could never find or keep a job landed and maintained one, and at a wage above the minimum.
But that was then. Now is now. Since 2001, barely 6 million new jobs have been added, and the recovery has been anemic. Large numbers of people are too discouraged even to look for work, which means they’re not counted as unemployed. As usual, it’s the poor and unskilled who are at the end of the job line. And worse may be in store: The Fed has raised steadily raised rates. The economy is slowing.
The welfare law signed by Bill Clinton allowed recipients to depend on welfare for a maximum of five years during their lifetimes. Assume they got off welfare and got a job in the roaring late 90s. During the anemic 00s they’ve been mostly out of work. If they’ve depended on welfare (now called “temporary assistance”) to keep their kids fed, their five years is about over.
Look, I’m not saying the old welfare system was a good one. I’m just saying we didn’t replace it with anything much better. The poor need health care, job training, a decent minimum wage, and income assistance while they get the training. They’re getting almost none of this. Above all, they need an economy that’s creating lots of jobs. They don’t have this, either. At the very least, the five-year limit should be suspended whenever the payroll survey of new jobs falls below the number needed to keep up with population growth (150,000 a month), as it has for months now.
The number of Americans in poverty has continued to rise during this so-called recovery. Many poor kids are in grave trouble. Instead of congratulating ourselves for “ending welfare as we know it,” we should be acknowledging that when it came to poor Americans we simply shut our eyes even tighter than they were shut before.
Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, former Secretary of Labor and Professor Robert Reich for his kindness and enduring effort to bring equality to fruition.
Introductory References and Resources…
- The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act United States Congress. 1996
- The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Administration for Children and FamiliesSeptember 1996
- How We Ended Welfare, Together By Bill Clinton The New York Times. August 22, 2006
- Low Income Students are now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools. Southern Education.
- Children and Welfare Reform; Promoting Resilience: Helping Young Children and Parents Affected by Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Depression in the Context of Welfare Reform.,/a> By Jane Knitzer National Center for Children in Poverty. February 200
- Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences By Lonnie Golden.| Economic Policy Institute . April 9, 2015
- How Low Can We Go? State Unemployment Insurance Programs Exclude Record Numbers of Jobless Workers. By Rick McHugh and Will Kimball. Economic Policy Institute . March 9, 2015
- From Welfare Shift in ’96, a Reminder for Clinton. By Peter S. Goodman. The New York Times. April 11, 2008
- U.S. Census; Food Stamps. Census.gov.
- Adolescants and Youth; Unemployment Benefits can be a lifeline for long term Unemployed Families. Urban Institute.
- My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats . By Bill Curry. Salon. July 27, 2014
- The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done By Peter Edelman. The Atlantic. March 1997 Issue
- Why Can’t We End Poverty in America? By Peter Edelman. The New York Times. July 28, 2012
- Clinton Says He’s A `New Democrat` By Mitchell Locin, Chicago Tribune. October 22, 1992