Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Reformers' Message: If You Are on Welfare, Having Babies Is Wrong

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Reformers' Message: If You Are on Welfare, Having Babies Is Wrong

Article excerpt

Back in 1987, Marion Barry, then as now the mayor of Washington, was touring a homeless shelter when he encountered Jacqueline Williams, a woman with 14 children. "Why don't you all find me a better place to live?" she demanded. "Why don't you stop having all those babies?" Barry shot back.

For that remark, he was criticized in some quarters and hauled before the nation's highest tribunal: the Donahue Show. He appeared, of course, with Williams, the purported other side of the story.

That incident tells us how dramatically the welfare debate has changed. Few people would now argue that a woman who is both jobless and homeless - and, as it turned out, so maternally irresponsible most of her children were later taken from her - is morally entitled to live her life on the dole. Her desire to have children, if it was that, was always her own business. Her insistence that we pay for them was, however, our business.

That incident and the attitudes that informed it are precisely what Newt Gingrich has in mind when he talks - sometimes recklessly - about an immoral welfare mentality. Sometimes he invokes the awful 1960s when, in his telling, conventional morality went behind the moon. But allowing for some theatrical exaggeration, he is onto something. To talk about welfare and not also about morality makes no sense whatsoever.

Gradually, America has come around to that point of view - and about time. In fact, the substance of that attitudinal change was contained in a Republican proposal to deny additional welfare benefits to women who have children while on public assistance. This was predictably and understandably denounced as being cruel to children. It's not so easy to dismiss this concern. We are, after all, talking about infants.

But a little harshness - directed at the parent, not the child - is the whole idea. At the core of welfare reform is the desire to send a moral message: If you can't afford a child, if - worse than that - you already are a mother and on the dole - don't have another one. This is nothing more than common sense. The child will invariably be put at risk - a Dickensian life of poverty - and the mother will be further burdened and unable to work. …

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