NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 18, 2006

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was signed by President Clinton on Aug. 22, 1996.  The law has transformed the way the nation helps its neediest citizens.  Gone is the promise of a government check for parents raising children in poverty.  In its place are 50 state programs to help those parents get jobs, says USA Today.

  • In the 12 years since caseloads peaked at 5.1 million families in 1994, millions have left the welfare rolls for low-paying jobs.
  • Nearly 1 million more have been kicked off for not following states' rules or have used up all the benefits they're allowed under time limits.
  • Today, 1.9 million families get cash benefits; in one-third of them, only the children qualify for aid.

Three in four families on welfare are headed by unmarried women. As a result:

  • Employment rates for all single women rose 25 percent before declining slightly since 2001.
  • Earnings for the poorest 40 percent of families headed by women doubled from 1994 to 2000, before recession wiped out nearly half the gains.
  • Poverty rates for children fell 25 percent before rising 10 percent since 2000.

The worst fears of liberals haven't materialized, says USA Today.  States did not enter what critics feared would be a money-saving "race to the bottom.

"Everything has worked," adds conservative Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute.  "Every critique one might have is about what could have gone better, not something that has gone poorly."

Source: Richard Wolf, "How welfare reform changed America," USA Today, July 18, 2006

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