Wednesday, January 30, 2002

In her column on Welfare Reform, Kate O'Beirne reminds us both of the false prophecies of those who opposed Welfare Reform in 1996 & highlights the rousing successes of the 1996 act:

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, predicted that the changes would "impoverish millions of American children" and "leave a moral blot on [Clinton's] presidency." Then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it "the most brutal act of social policy we have known since Reconstruction" — but the 1996 reforms have in fact dramatically improved the lives of poor children.

Since 1996, welfare rolls have been reduced by over 50 percent. There are 4.2 million fewer people in poverty, including 2.3 million fewer children. The poverty rate for black children is at the lowest point in history, as is the poverty rate for single mothers. According to the Department of Agriculture, there are 2 million fewer hungry children today than in 1996, and, after steadily increasing for a generation, the illegitimate-birth rate hasn't risen in the past five years.

Now, we shouldn't kid ourselves and think that judging the success of welfare reform is as simple as citing the above statistics. I think it was Mark Twain who said, "There are three kinds of dishonesty: lies, damn lies, and statistics!" However, realizing that statistics can be manipulated to show any number of things and that analysis of such a sweeping program is surely more complex, I do think the reforms of 1996 have been a move in the right direction. Alongside these statistics are numerous anecdotes of those who have indeed been helped tremendously by these reforms to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Even when well-intentioned, many of the efforts to help the poor since the beginning of the Great Society have had devastating effects in that they have fostered a paralyzing dependency while undercutting biblical family structures.

O'Beirne urges our policymakers not only to persevere in the kinds of dependency reducing reforms that were implemented in 1996, but also encourages them to put the eradication of illegitimacy and the encouragment of marriage higher on the priority list of new reforms. This in fact was a central plank in the 1996 Welfare Reform movement, however she says that for every $1000 spent subdizing single parents, only $1 was spent encouraging marriage.

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