Welfare reform is working

Welfare reform is working remarkably well, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. Welfare caseloads are way down; so is child poverty. Most welfare leavers are working, and they don’t see their jobs as “dead-end.” Their children are doing no worse or better than before. When the boom ended, some welfare leavers lost their jobs and poverty rates rose, but the numbers are far better than before welfare reform went into effect. Welfare caseloads continue to fall.

Hymowitz asks why progressives were so wrong in their predictions and concludes labor economists ignored “the key role that values, or culture, plays in making people into productive citizens who go to school, do their homework, plan their lives, and work to support themselves and their families.”

Human beings tend to do pretty much what they are expected to do. When the culture expects self-sufficiency, people will try to achieve it. When the culture sends mixed messages about self-sufficiency, as it did during the old welfare regime — particularly to the minority poor — some will not try to become self-sufficient. Experts couldn’t calculate that simple dynamic, since fuzzy notions like values, norms, and culture are not easily quantifiable.

While never-married mothers are much more likely to work, they’re not a lot more likely to get married, Hymowitz writes. For one thing, welfare reform had little affect on the fathers of poor children.

Reform optimists predicted that by heightening women’s self-respect and belief in their future, work would make them more marriage-minded. “Women, realizing welfare won’t support them, may begin to make better choices: demanding more from the men in their lives, delaying childbirth, teaming up with breadwinners,” journalist Mickey Kaus theorized. Reformers also hoped that work requirements would act as a deterrent: girls seeing their mothers and older sisters juggling a low-paying job, an apartment, and children, all without a husband’s help, would shun such a life.

That didn’t really happen, though the increase in the rate of out-of-wedlock births slowed with the advent of welfare reform. The next step is to persuade poor men to get a steady job and get married before fathering children — and it’s a doozy.

About Joanne


  1. Are we to assume that the resistance to marriage is solely – or even principally – from the men’s side? The studies I’ve seen (Ford Foundation Fragile Families survey) don’t support that notion. So if anybody needs to be persuaded about the virtues of marriage, it’s the women.

    But the main issue here is something we’ve discussed before, the ability of welfare fathers to get gainful employment. As you know, welfare mothers are treated to education and job training by the state, while welfare fathers are absolutely discouraged from doing anything that might enhance their earning potential by the crush of their child support obligations. This is to say that a custodial mother can take a couple of years – or more, depending – to get a credential of some kind without any worry about the support of the child, as the state will take care of her part of it. But the young man who fathered the welfare mother’s child absolutely cannot stop working to attend any sort of full-time educational program without going to jail for non-payment of child support.

    Thus the system, with its one-sided enforcement of financial responsibility, discourages men from increasing their earning potential and thereby discourages marriage.

    Twice as many black girls graduate from college as black boys. And who do the excess girls marry? Nobody, apparently.

    This is public-policy-created problem.

  2. My wee wifey works as a CNA in a nursing home because she found it to be her calling, but most of the women she works with came to the field thru Wisconsin’s “W2” Welfare To Work program. Some of them remain employed only because there is such a shortage of healthcare workers that their poor work habits are tolerated, but others have taken to it, and gone on to train as nurses. One friend, once on welfare, currently an LPN, is now about to resume schooling so as to become an RN.

    Milwaukee’s Welfare Warrior activist group hates the program, but as I recall they only managed to come up with one case of a woman who wound up homeless after the transitional subsidies ran out.

  3. Indigo Warrior says:

    From the article:
    “Women, realizing welfare won’t support them, may begin to make better choices: demanding more from the men in their lives, delaying childbirth, teaming up with breadwinners,”

    You mean poor/minority women should become gold-diggers, just like rich white women? Heavens forbid that kind of equality! Why not instead both the man and woman equally valuing work (and its fruits, monetary and otherwise), rather than a one-way street?

  4. All women are gold-diggers. It’s their Darwinian destiny.

  5. Brian Most says:

    BadaBing: Any rational reason for saying this?

  6. Gold-digger’s a pretty rough way to put it but it’s certainly true that a guy with lots to offer gets lots of offers.

  7. BadaBing: Any rational reason for saying this?

    Smart women marry men that make lots of money to ensure that their offspring will have a secure future. Even without taking children into consideration, women are attracted to men of power, and power is the most potent female aphrodisiac in the world. Money is power.


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