Welfare Reform Myths

                Duncan Lindsey
                    UCLA

 

 

 

 

 

Welfare Reform led to a Reduction in Child Poverty: False

 

Advocates of welfare reform have heralded the results of welfare reform, particularly for poor children:

In the almost seven years since the welfare reform law was enacted, economic conditions have improved dramatically for America's poorest families. Welfare rolls have plummeted, employment of single mothers has increased dramatically, and child hunger has declined substantially. Most striking, however, has been the effect of welfare reform on child poverty, particularly among black children.

Melissa Pardue, (2003) Sharp Reduction in Black Child Poverty Due to Welfare Reform

 

Child poverty rates are at or near historic lows. This is one of the most important outcomes we could have hoped to achieve—and TANF has been a stunning success. The overall child poverty rate has fallen from 20.5% in 1996 to 16.3% in 2001— a 20% decline. The poverty rate for African American children is down 24% since 1996 and in 2001 reached it lowest level ever recorded. The Hispanic child poverty rate dropped from 40.3 percent to 28.0, the largest five year drop on record.

Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

 

The welfare reform legislation passed in 1996 did not lead to reduced child poverty. It is true that during the period after the passage of welfare reform (1996 to 2000) the national child poverty rates declined. This was a period when the economy was expanding and even booming and poverty for all groups declined.

 

When child poverty is examined at the state level, even during this period, it is clear that the declines in the welfare caseload had little to do with declines in child poverty.  (See the Charts displaying annual change in each of these programs from 1993 to 2002 which are available online at: http://www.childwelfare.com (select a state from the map and then “Programs for Children”).

 

Examining the states with the largest welfare caseload declines demonstrates that the declines in child poverty in these states had little relation with caseload reductions. For example, Wisconsin reduced the number of children receiving welfare by more than 75 percent while child poverty actually increased in the state between 1996 and 2002.

 

 

 

Welfare reform allowed states to reduce and, in several states, essentially dismantle income assistance for poor children. This can be seen by the declining ratio of children receiving welfare to children living in poverty:

 

 

 

Table 1

Ratio of Children Receiving Welfare to Children Living in Poverty

 

 

 

1993

1996

2002

 

 

1993

1996

2002

 

 

1993

1996

2002

 Rhode Island

.81

.94

.77

 

 Pennsylvania

.70

.78

.36

 

 Oregon

.53

.43

.20

 Vermont

.70

.75

.70

 

 New York

.63

.68

.35

 

 South Carolina

.48

.40

.19

 Alaska

.72

.80

.61

 

 Maryland

.77

.77

.33

 

 South Dakota

.36

.33

.19

 Hawaii

.79

.83

.56

 

 New Jersey

.77

.70

.33

 

 Texas

.36

.34

.18

 California

.72

.79

.49

 

 Nebraska

.52

.48

.32

 

 Wisconsin

.64

.79

.18

 Minnesota

.68

.77

.48

 

 North Dakota

.43

.38

.30

 

 North Carolina

.63

.52

.16

 Connecticut

.81

.89

.45

 

 Kentucky

.53

.48

.30

 

 Colorado

.51

.44

.16

 Indiana

.54

.51

.45

 

 West Virginia

.52

.52

.30

 

 Mississippi

.48

.43

.15

 New Hampshire

.54

.68

.44

 

 Ohio

.76

.79

.29

 

 Arkansas

.31

.25

.15

 Washington

.74

.71

.43

 

 Montana

.47

.43

.27

 

 Oklahoma

.44

.35

.14

 Tennessee

.65

.62

.43

 

 Arizona

.41

.36

.25

 

 Utah

.37

.33

.14

 Missouri

.56

.63

.40

 

 New Mexico

.40

.44

.25

 

 Alabama

.35

.30

.14

 Delaware

.62

.55

.40

 

 Kansas

.50

.48

.25

 

 Louisiana

.45

.45

.14

 Massachusetts

.79

.72

.40

 

 Georgia

.58

.54

.24

 

 Florida

.58

.50

.14

 Iowa

.59

.65

.40

 

 Illinois

.73

.77

.22

 

 Wyoming

.59

.52

.04

 Maine

.70

.71

.39

 

 Nevada

.38

.43

.21

 

 Idaho

.26

.28

.03

 Michigan

.74

.73

.38

 

 Virginia

.46

.42

.21

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
Almost half the states provide income assistance to less than one quarter of children living in poverty in 2002. Before welfare reform this wasn't true for any states. In 1996, Wisconsin provided income assistance to almost four fifths of all children living in poverty. By 2002, they provide welfare to less than one fifth of all children living in poverty. Illinois provided income assistance to more than three quarters of all children living in poverty before welfare reform. After, they provided income assistance to less than one quarter. North Carolina went from .63 in 1993 to .16 in 2002. The data in this table indicate that after welfare reform many states simply stopped providing income assistance to most of the children living in poverty.

 


Welfare Reform Reduced Children Born Out-of-Wedlock: False

 

Welfare reform did not lead to a decline in the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers.

 

See the state charts of the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers from 1993 to 2002. In almost every state the percentage has continued to increase. The welfare reform legislation included substantial incentives for states to lower out-of-wedlock births.

 

Changes in the Percentage of Births to Unmarried Women, 19932002

Source: Division of Vital Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, Center for Disease Control (2003).

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Welfare Reform Led to More Single Mothers Working:  True

 

The number of single mothers working after the passage of welfare reform increased during the post welfare reform period. Economists suggest that both the booming economy and welfare reform contributed to the increase percentage of these mothers working.

 

 

 

 

 

Single mothers with young children increased their labor force participation the most:

 

 

 

 

 

Employment Status of Single and Married Mothers, 1990–2000

 

                                             1990         1994         1996         1998         1999         2000      Change

Married Mothers

Under 200% of Poverty                                                                                                     96-00

-with children under 6

employed                               38.36        38.5             39.0         41.2          39.3         42.3        3.2

unemployed                             4.24         5.9              4.2           5.2           3.9           3.9          0.3

not in labor force                     57.23        55.4             56.7         53.5          56.6         53.7        3.2

 

-with children under 18

employed                               42.6         43.7             44.4         44.5          43.4         46.2        1.8

unemployed                             4.6           5.6              4.3           5.4           3.9           4.1        -0.2

not in labor force                     52.7         50.5             51.3         50.0          52.6         49.6       -1.7

 

Single Mothers Under 200% of Poverty

-with children under 6            

employed                               38.34        39.4             44.4         51.1          54.6         58.5      14.0

unemployed                             9.53        10.6              9.6         11.0           9.5           8.0        -1.5

not in labor force                     52.11        50.0             46.0         37.8          35.9         33.5     -12.5

 

-with children under 18

employed                               46.3         46.1             51.1         56.6          59.0         60.8        9.7

unemployed                             9.5         10.0              8.6           9.3           7.9           7.4        -1.1

not in labor force                     44.3         43.8             40.4         34.1          33.1         31.8       -8.5

 

 

 

According to the Administration for Children and Families (2002) employment was the reason for closure in 19.7 percent of welfare (TANF) closed-case families for 2000, 23 percent in 1999, 21.7 percent in 1998, and 16.2 percent in 1997.  Although many single mothers left welfare after finding work, many others left for other reasons.

 

James Q. Wilson (2002) cautions that welfare reform “will tell young mothers to be employed, away from their children for much of each week. These children, already fatherless, will now become primarily motherless. They will be raised by somebody else. A grandmother? A neighbor? An overworked day care manager? Or they will be left alone?”

 

 

 

It is true that welfare reform has led to increased employment of single mothers, especially mothers with young children and unmarried mothers.

 

It is also true that millions of children living in poverty no longer benefit from the income assistance provided by welfare even though they continue to live in poverty.

 

It is reasonable to conclude that one consequence of welfare reform has been the withdrawal of income support to millions of the poorest children in the nation. It is not reasonable to suggest that these children are better off.

 

As numerous children’s advocates warned during its consideration, welfare reform has left millions of the nation’s poorest children without income protection.

 

The data indicate that in many states the number of children eligible for means-tested programs (i.e., subsidized free lunch program, the food stamp program, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and Head Start) have all continued to rise, which is inconsistent with the reductions in the number of children receiving welfare in the states.


 

Welfare Reform Impacts All Children Equally: False

 

The largest proportion of children receiving welfare are Black. The reduction of income assistance to poor children has a disproportionate impact on Black children. This can be seen by the disproportionate number of Black children who receive welfare. As Dorothy Roberts writes in, Shattered Bonds, "The disproportionate number of Black children in America’s welfare system is staggering. Black families are overrepresented. Spend a day at the welfare office and you will see the unmistakable color of the welfare system."

 

 

Wisconsin


Mississippi


Florida


Louisiana


Illinois


Alabama


 

 

 
 

Black Children

 

White Children

 
State Population
TANF Population
State Population
TANF Population
Wisconsin
9%
67%
86%
25%
Florida
22%
55%
58%
23%
Illinois
20%
76%
62%
14%
Mississippi
46%
87%
54%
13%
Louisiana
42%
88%
58%
12%
New York
19%
42%
58%
19%
New Jersey
16%
61%
62%
11%
California
7%
23%
36%
21%
Pennsylvania
13%
55%
80%
29%
North Carolina
26%
66%
63%
24%
Michigan
18%
55%
73%
39%
Ohio
14%
56%
80%
40%
Texas
13%
30%
44%
16%
Virginia
24%
69%
67%
27%
Georgia
36%
81%
58%
17%
Alabama
33%
77%
67%
23%

 

Welfare Reform will Lead to an End to Child Poverty: False

 

The data examined above and the charts displayed in “Programs for Children” indicate that post welfare reform, more children qualify for subsidized free lunch, WIC, and Head Start.

 

Wisconsin

Illinois

Wyoming

Louisiana

Florida

North Carolina

 

In many states the child poverty rate is approaching and even exceeding pre welfare reform levels, except that these states have not restored welfare to the children living in poverty. It is unlikely that the welfare benefits will be restored.

 

For most of the poor and disadvantaged children affected by welfare reform the essential consequence has been to make a bleak life only bleaker.

 

Ending child poverty will require more than welfare reform

 


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