Marriage, Tougher Work Rules Key to Welfare Reform's Continued Success
As Congress prepares to reauthorize the landmark 1996 welfare
reform law-House leaders expect a floor vote next week-a new paper
from The Heritage Foundation shows how lawmakers can build on the
old law's success: Strengthen work requirements and promote
"The indifference and hostility to marriage in the welfare system
is a disgrace," Heritage analysts Patrick
and Robert Rector
"In reauthorizing welfare reform, Congress must make the rebuilding
of marriage its top priority. The restoration of marriage in
American society is truly the next frontier of welfare
Continuing Good News About Welfare Reform
," Fagan and Rector
urge Congress to:
Make work requirements stronger
. About half of the
2 million mothers on the welfare rolls are idle. Federal work
requirements should be changed to ensure that all able-bodied
parents are engaged continuously in supervised job search,
community service work, or training as long as they receive
. The poverty rate amongof
single-parent families is about five times the poverty rate among
married- couple families. "The most effective way to reduce child
poverty and increase child well-being is to increase the number of
stable, healthy marriages," they say.
The 1996 law has reduced poverty substantially by every measure,
notes Fagan, a Heritage family expert, and Rector, one of the
nation's top experts on child poverty and a leading architect of
the bill President Clinton signed in 1996.
Since then, overall poverty, child poverty and black child poverty
have decreased significantly. Welfare caseloads have been cut
nearly in half, and the explosive growth of out-of-wedlock child
bearing has come to a virtual halt.
Rather than forcing 2.6 million people into poverty, as critics
warned, the reforms have helped move 3.5 million out, according to
U.S. Census Bureau figures. Today, 2.9 million fewer children live
in poverty than did in 1995.
Poverty among black children stands at an all-time low, Fagan and
Rector say. Hunger among children has been cut roughly in half;
U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show there are 420,000 fewer
hungry children today than when the 1996 law was enacted.
Some critics attribute this success to the robust economy of the
late 1990s. But while a strong economy undoubtedly helped, research
shows that state welfare reform policies played a much larger role,
the Heritage analysts say.
They highlight a recent paper, by Rebecca Blank, former member of
the Council of Economic Adviseors in the Clinton administration,
which shows a direct link between state welfare reform policies and
rising incomes among poor families. Blank found that s tates with
welfare reform programs that offered "strong work incentives"
showed greater increases in the income of single parents with
children than did states with weak work incentives.
Fagan and Rector also note that similar economic expansions before
1996 did nothing to cut welfare rolls or poverty rates, and the
current recession-unlike any other since welfare came into
existence-has slowed but not stopped the progress made by reform.