Clinton’s Blindness on Welfare Reform
By Robert Scheer
To hear Bill Clinton tell it, his presidency won the war on poverty three decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched it, having changed only the name. Unfortunately, however, for the mothers and their children pushed off the rolls but still struggling mightily to make ends meet even when the women are employed, the war on welfare was not the same battle at all.
Clinton masterfully blurred the two in a recent New York Times opinion column,Â as did most others on the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, writing as if getting mothers and their children off the welfare rolls is the same as getting them out of poverty. In the absence of any evidence that poverty is tamed, he celebrates a “bipartisan” victory, which was good for his image but not necessarily for those it claimed to help.
The ex-president gloats over the large decrease in the number of welfare recipients as if he is unaware of the five-year limit and other new restrictions which made it inevitable. Nor does he seem bothered that nobody seems to have thought it important to assess how the families on Aid to Families with Dependent Children fared after they left welfare. The truth is we know very little about the fate of those moved off welfare, 70% of whom are children, because there is no systematic monitoring program, thanks to “welfare reform” severing the federal government’s responsibility to help the nation’s poor.
The best estimates from the Census Bureau and other data, however, indicate that at least a million welfare recipients have neither jobs nor benefits and have sunk deeper into poverty. For those who found jobs, a great many became mired in minimum-wage jobs — sometimes more than one — that barely cover the child-care and other costs they incurred by working outside the home.
Yet, in rather the same way that President Bush likes to follow sentences about Sept. 11 with the words “Saddam Hussein” to imply a connection unsupported by facts, Clinton follows his boasts about welfare “reform” by announcing that “child poverty dropped to 16.2 percent in 2000, the lowest rate since 1979” as if that proves a causal relationship.
But if crushing welfare is such a boon to poor children, the effects should be snowballing the further we get from the bad old days, right? Well, no: The same census data Clinton cites for 2000 also records a 12% increase in childhood poverty over the four subsequent years.