THE BLOG

Welfare "Reform": The NY Times Perpetuates a Myth

Will The New York Times stop regurgitating the utter nonsense that welfare "reform" was a success? Erik Eckholm's article today on the plight of black men is disturbing, not just because of its central thesis that black men in America are in dire straights but because Eckholm, in virtually the same breathe, continues to give life to a political myth:

Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics, a flurry of new scholarly studies warn, and it has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black women and other groups.

It's not hard to disagree with the first part of the paragraph. But, welfare overhaul has been a disaster for women. It has pushed tens of thousands of them into poverty. Here's what Fred Block points outabout the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) the 1996 welfare measure that ended the entitlement to benefits--promoted and signed into law by Bill Clinton.

In 1994, for example 63% of poor children received benefits from the earlier welfare program--AFDC. By 2004, the new program, TANF, provided smaller benefits to only 36% of poor children. Nationally, total annual assistance to the poor through TANF, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit dropped by more than $19 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars as a result of the new program.

Since TANF eliminated any legal right of poor families to get help, the changes were most dramatic in states that had historically been reluctant to provide assistance to the minority poor. In Louisiana, for example, $168 million in assistance was paid to 245,000 recipients in 1994. By 2004, there were only 42,000 recipients receiving benefits of only $57 million. (The change would be even greater if the dollars are adjusted for changes in price levels.)

But despite the decline of assistance, there was no exodus from poverty in Louisiana. Those who left the welfare rolls continued to be poor. It was just that fewer dollars of assistance flowed into impoverished neighborhoods, such as the 9th Ward. Whatever the intentions of policymakers, the results were disastrous for children whose parents had little income from work or from government assistance.

Similar problems existed in many other cities, but the storm briefly swept away the blinders that keep middle class Americans from witnessing the kind of concentrated poverty that exists all over this country. The crowds at the Superdome demonstrated the Administrations belated response to the emergency. However, they also revealed decades of indifference, years of neglect.

Or as Heather Boushey and Bethney Gundersen found:

Much has been made of the success of welfare reform in the past couple of years. The dramatic declines in caseloads and the relatively high employment rates among families who have left welfare have led researchers to call the reforms a success. The reforms are only a success, however, if families that have left welfare are better off than they were on welfare. Our research indicates that, overall, former welfare families experience relatively high rates of hardship. Former welfare families with a full-time

worker experience the lowest rate of hardship, but even among these "successful" families, work is not enough to ensure the family can meet its basic needs. Furthermore, not all former welfare families have a full-time worker, nor will all families be able to have one.

The second piece of nonsense is the idea of an "economic boom." What boom is Eckholm referring to? The boom that has left wages for workers in the lower and middle brackets stagnant or even lower in real terms? The boom that has seen any meager increase in wages eaten away by rising health care costs? The boom that has seen the elimination of pensions for tens of thousands of workers? The boom that has brought a worldwide global trading system based on the single concept of lowering wages?