NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Strengthening Welfare Reforms

February 14, 2003

Six years ago, President Clinton signed legislation overhauling part of the nation's welfare system. The reforms had three goals: (1) to reduce welfare dependence and increase employment; (2) to reduce child poverty; and (3) to reduce illegitimacy and strengthen marriage.

At the time of its enactment, liberal groups passionately denounced the bill, predicting that it would result in substantial increases in poverty, hunger and other social ills. Contrary to these alarming forecasts, welfare reform has been effective in meeting its goals.

  • About 3.5 million fewer people live in poverty today than in 1995, according to Census Bureau figures.
  • Some 2.9 million fewer children live in poverty today than in 1995, with the greatest decreases in poverty among black children.
  • The poverty rate of children living with single mothers is at the lowest point in U.S. history, having fallen substantially since the onset of welfare reform.

A recent analysis by former Congressional Budget Office Director June O'Neill finds that welfare reform has also been responsible for three-quarters of the increase in employment of single mothers and three-quarters of the drop in welfare caseloads. The increase in employment of single mothers, in turn, is a major factor behind the drop in child poverty.

Notwithstanding this record of accomplishment, far more needs to be done, say analysts:

  • Federal work requirements should be strengthened to ensure that all able-bodied parents engage in supervised job search, community service work, or skills training as a condition of receiving aid.
  • Congress must recognize that the most effective way to reduce child poverty and increase child well-being is to increase the number of stable, productive marriages.
  • In reauthorizing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Congress must greatly strengthen the pro-marriage aspects of welfare reform.

Source: Robert Rector and Patrick F. Fagan, "The Continuing Good News About Welfare Reform," Backgrounder No. 1620, February 6, 2003, Heritage Foundation.

For O'Neill-Hill study  


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