Magazine article The American Prospect

Welfare Then and Now: 1990

Magazine article The American Prospect

Welfare Then and Now: 1990

Article excerpt

WELL BEFORE BILL CLINTON pledged to "end welfare as we know it, the first issue of The American Prospect included a long article by Kathryn Edin and myself [see "The Real Welfare Problem," Spring 1990] urging liberals to rethink welfare. Our argument rested on two facts. First, both Edin's research and national surveys showed that single mothers seldom survived on welfare alone. Most made ends meet by getting additional money under the table. Second, this was no recent development. Welfare benefits had never been adequate to support a family. Politically, we argued, a society in which most middle-class mothers worked was unlikely to offer poor mothers enough money to support a family without working. The alternative was to increase the rewards to work--with a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers with children, plus subsidies for child care and health expenses.

Two years later, Clinton was elected and set out to end welfare and "make work pay." But while he persuaded Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit in 1993, his plan for universal health insurance failed, and welfare reform was postponed. Republican control of Congress in 1994 produced a far more punitive approach. In the law that Clinton reluctantly signed in 1996, job guarantees disappeared, work requirements became more stringent, and subsidies more meager. Instead of creating a new regime that ensured working mothers adequate income, the new welfare law seemed mainly concerned with dismantling the supports. Most liberals, including me, thought this was a mistake. …

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