NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

On the Fifth Anniversary of Welfare Reform, Opponents Deny its Success

August 22, 2001

Five years ago today, then-President Clinton signed the landmark welfare reform bill. By almost any standard, it has been an overwhelming success. Welfare rolls have been halved. The number of families living in poverty is down. And the number of two-parent families is up.

  • The number of welfare-collecting families dropped from 4.4 million in 1996 to 2.2 million last year.
  • The number of female-headed families living in poverty has declined from 3.8 million to 3.1 million.

Despite all the good news, however, some of those who opposed welfare reform in 1996 still refuse to recognize its success -- or credit other factors for the improvements in the lives of former welfare dependents.

  • Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) says he still opposes the reforms "because it absolutely ends any legal responsibility that the United States government has to the poor...."
  • Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who in 1996 predicted that reform proponents "will take this disgrace to their graves," today declines to comment on the matter.
  • Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, who advised him to veto the bill in 1996, now credits the economic boom for moving people off welfare.
  • Similarly, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman, who in 1996 called Clinton's signature on the bill "a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children," now credits "the good economy" for the fact that more people are in the labor force.

The welfare law expires Sept. 30, 2002, and new legislation will be needed to extend it.

Source: Kathy Kiely and William M. Welch, "Welfare Reform's Success Isn't Unquestioned," USA Today, August 22, 2001.


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