Reforming Welfare Reform: Clinton Signed the Bill; Now Conservatives and Liberals Alike Have Work to Do If We Want It to Succeed

By Cottle, Michelle | The Washington Monthly, November 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Reforming Welfare Reform: Clinton Signed the Bill; Now Conservatives and Liberals Alike Have Work to Do If We Want It to Succeed


Cottle, Michelle, The Washington Monthly


With his signing of the welfare bill, President Clinton may have deflated a political football, but he set off a flurry of fortune telling. The bill's proponents are predicting a sunny future with discontented, parasitic welfare moms transformed into a thrifty working class with renewed self-respect. Its outraged opponents prophesy that the new system will give rise to bands of children roaming the streets and enclaves of homeless huddling together in tent cities.

Regardless of which group you fall into, at this stage, most of us agree that the current system has to change. After years of dumping money into entitlement programs that act as a trap as much as a safety net. a message needs to be sent about what our society owes its members and what it expects from them--a message not just for those caught in the system, but also for people like "Gwenn Jackson," a young working mother I met in 1992.

Gwenn was in an English class I was teaching at a community college in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Around 25 years old, with two kids, no husband, and at least one job, Gwenn was taking my class for one reason only: to complete her degree so she could find a better job. Every morning she would drag into class and collapse into a chair, clearly exhausted. She occasionally arrived late or missed class because of a sick child. But she made up the work and often asked for additional help. Gwenn clearly wanted to do well, but reading even a simple sentence was difficult for her. Grading her homework was a chore, and at the end of the term, I put off looking at her final paper until last. Four years later, hers is the only essay I recall.

Asked to address a topic of personal importance, Gwenn chose to write about the welfare system. Now, this woman had grown up poor, black, and essentially uneducated in rural Mississippi. She had no interest in eligibility requirements, state matching funds, or benefit levels. She herself wasn't on welfare. Gwenn's concerns were about the "fairness" of a system that let her neighbors sit home waiting for their benefit checks while she split her time between work and school. At one point, she asked straight out: Why should I work hard when the other women I know sit home all day with their kids? I don't get to spend time with my kids, and I have to pay someone to stay with them.

Truth be told, only a small percentage of welfare recipients are out to cheat the system. (Only 30 percent stay on the rolls for more than two consecutive years.) Most recipients honestly believe they can't find a job that will let them support their families. But while a tragic few cannot survive on their own, many more simply don't like the jobs they can find or are unwilling to endure the frustrations of the workplace. Of course, none of this meant a thing to Gwenn. She had no special skills or connections that made it easier for her to find decent employment, nor was she immune to abusive or patronizing employers. Still, she had chosen work over welfare because she believed providing for her family was her responsibility. Sadly, she was getting just the opposite message from a government she thought rewarded those who opted not to work. Whatever the essay's grammatical flaws, Gwenn's response was clear: She was confused, she was angry, and she was discouraged.

For people like Gwenn, the welfare reform bill sends the long-awaited signal that--while it may be tough--working for your livelihood is the right thing to do. It's also a signal to Gwenn's neighbors that waiting at home for your monthly check is no longer an option. Now, having said all that, I want to clarify something: The bill itself is a dangerously flawed vehicle for delivering this message. It contains a handful of provisions that are downright nasty, and many more that will help or harm depending on how they're administered. (I cringe to hear pundits rave about the "radical experimentation" now possible with states designing their own programs.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Reforming Welfare Reform: Clinton Signed the Bill; Now Conservatives and Liberals Alike Have Work to Do If We Want It to Succeed
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?